The single-breath diffusing capacity of the lung for CO [DLCO(SB)] is considered a measure of the conductance of CO across the alveolar-capillary membrane and its binding with hemoglobin. Although incomplete mixing of inspired gas with alveolar gas could theoretically influence overall diffusion, conventional calculations of DLCO(SB) spuriously overestimate DLCO(SB) during short breath-holding periods when incomplete mixing of gas within the lung might have the greatest effect. Using the three-equation method to calculate DLCO(SB) which analytically accounts for changes in breath-hold time, we found that DLCO(SB) did not change with breath-hold time in control subjects but increased with increasing breath-hold time in both patients with asthma and patients with emphysema. The increase in DLCO(SB) with increasing breath-hold time correlated with the phase III slope of the single-breath N2 washout curve. We suggest that in patients with ventilation maldistribution, DLCO(SB) may be decreased for the shorter breath-hold maneuvers because overall diffusion is limited by the reduced transport of CO from the inspired gas through the alveolar gas prior to alveolar-capillary gas exchange.