Twenty-six consecutive patients in hypovolemic shock were randomized to fluid challenge with 5% albumin (A), 6% hetastarch (H), or 0.9% saline (S) solutions. Fluid challenge consisted of 250 ml of test fluid every 15 min until the pulmonary artery wedge pressure (WP) reached 15 mm Hg. Thereafter, WP was maintained at 15 mm Hg for an additional 24 h with infusions of the same test fluid. Vital signs, hemodynamic and respiratory variables, as well as arterial lactate and colloid osmotic pressure (COP) were monitored according to protocol. Chest x-rays were performed by standardized technique before fluid challenge and at 12 and 24 h of maintenance fluid therapy and were evaluated for evidence of pulmonary edema. Cardiac function and hemodynamic stability were restored by fluid challenge with A, H, and S. Two to 4 times the volume of S as A or H was required to achieve similar hemodynamic endpoints. COP was increased by fluid challenge with A or H but was markedly reduced by fluid challenge with S and throughout the 24-h maintenance period. Fluid challenge resulted in reductions in COP-WP gradient of 62% in the A, 43% in the H, and 125% in the S groups. Resuscitation with S resulted in a significantly higher incidence of pulmonary edema (87.5%) than did resuscitation with A (22%) or H (22%). Urine output was not different among the groups at any time during the study. We conclude that 6% H performs as well as 5% A as a resuscitative fluid and that resuscitation with either of these colloids is associated with a lower incidence of pulmonary edema than is resuscitation with 0.9% S.