Echocardiographic recording of the atrioventricular (AV) plane displacement during the cardiac cycle was used to assess left ventricular (LV) global function in patients with congestive heart failure (CHF). The study population consisted of 70 patients with chronic CHF (NYHA functional groups III and IV) following dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) or myocardial infarction (MI), and 35 age-matched healthy subjects. The AV plane displacement was recorded from the apical 4- and 2-chamber views at four LV sites located about 90 degrees apart and representing the septal, anterior, lateral and posterior parts of the LV wall. A mean value was calculated from the above sites (AV-mean). Patients with CHF showed a significant generalized reduction of AV plane displacement compared to healthy subjects (5.6 mm vs. 14.5 mm, P less than 0.001). Thirty CHF patients also underwent radionuclide angiography in order to determine the ejection fraction (EF). The correlation between AV-mean and EF was good (r = 0.82, P less than 0.001). The selection of an AV-mean of less than 7 mm to define a severely depressed LV function (EF less than 30%) gave a sensitivity of 92% and a specificity of 67%. It is concluded that the AV plane displacement can be used to estimate LV systolic function in patients with CHF.