Cardiac output is determined by heart rate, by contractility (maximum systolic elastance, Emax) and afterload, and by diastolic ventricular compliance and preload. These relationships are illustrated using the pressure-volume loop. Diastolic compliance and Emax place limits determined by the heart within which the pressure-volume loop must lie. End-diastolic and end-systolic pressures and hence the exact position of the loop within these limits are determined by the peripheral circulation. In the presence of minimal sympathetic tone, some 60% of total blood volume is hemodynamically inactive and constitutes a blood volume reserve (the unstressed volume). The remainder of the blood volume (the stressed volume) and the compliance of the venous system determine the venous pressure. This venous pressure together with venous resistance determines venous return, right atrial pressure, cardiac preload, and hence cardiac output. Venoconstriction causes conversion of unstressed volume to the stressed volume, the blood volume reserve is converted into hemodynamically active blood volume. After hemorrhage this replaces the lost stressed volume, while in other situations where total blood volume is not reduced, it allows a sustained increase in cardiac output. The major blood volume reserve is in the splanchnic bed: the liver and intestine, and in animals but not man, the spleen. A major unsolved problem is how the conversion of unstressed volume to stressed volume by venoconstriction is reflexly controlled.