The cardiopulmonary effects of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) were studied in 14 patients with acute myocardial infarction complicated by circulatory and respiratory failure. Cardiac performance, lung mechanics, and gas exchange were assessed during 50 percent mechanical ventilatory support at end-expiratory airway pressure levels of 0, 5, 10, and 15 mm Hg. The increase in airway pressure resulted in significantly improved arterial blood oxygenation (p less than 0.001) and in a substantial reduction in the spontaneous respiratory effort (p less than 0.001). We observed a slight decrease in stroke volume index (p less than 0.05) with increasing airway pressure in patients who had moderate left ventricular dysfunction, and a trend of improvement (NS) in those who had severe pump failure. Relatively high levels of CPAP can be used to improve pulmonary function in patients with acute myocardial infarction and left ventricular failure. In fact, circulatory depression is less likely to occur when cardiac performance is poor.