Right atrial hypertension has been considered to have a major physiologic influence on the formation of transudative pleural effusions. Since pleural fluid is thought to be cleared primarily by the parietal pleural lymphatic vessels that empty into the systemic veins, systemic venous hypertension secondary to right atrial hypertension should decrease the lymphatic drainage of the pleural space. We retrospectively studied nine patients and prospectively studied 18 patients with long-term right atrial or pulmonary arterial hypertension (or both). All patients had stable respiratory symptoms, and none had a significantly elevated pulmonary arterial wedge pressure. Our purpose was to determine the relationship of right atrial and pulmonary arterial hypertension to the development of transudative pleural effusions. Posteroanterior and bilateral decubitus chest roentgenograms and ultrasound were used to detect pleural effusions. Pleural effusions were not identified in any of the 27 patients, even in four patients with right atrial pressures greater than 20 mm Hg. We conclude that chronic elevation of right atrial pressure or pulmonary arterial pressure (or both) alone is not a cause of pleural effusion. In contrast, elevation of left atrial and pulmonary arterial wedge pressures is associated with the formation of transudative pleural effusions in man. Thus, if pleural effusions are detected in patients who have cor pulmonale, a search should be made for coexisting left heart failure or a primary cause of pleural inflammation, such as pulmonary emboli or infection.