To explore the main factors which could be involved in the fluid retention induced by continuous positive pressure ventilation (CPPV), hemodynamics, renal, and hormonal parameters were measured in seven intensive care patients during three consecutive 60-min periods; one of intermittent positive pressure ventilation (IPPV), one of CPPV (PEEP 10 cmH2O), and finally one of IPPV. During CPPV, a 15% decrease in cardiac output was observed, without alteration in arterial pressure or right atrial transmural pressure. In addition, decreases were observed in urinary output by 34%, glomerular filtration rate by 19%, renal blood flow by 32%, sodium excretion by 33%, and potassium excretion by 26%. There was no change in the fractional excretion of sodium and free water. Institution of PEEP also led to a significant increase in plasma renin activity, plasma aldosterone, and urinary antidiuretic hormone, without significant variation in plasma neurophysins and urinary prostaglandins E and F alpha. All of the changes that occurred during CPPV were reversed when PEEP was withdrawn. It is concluded that the short-term antidiuretic effect of PEEP is mainly due to a hemodynamic impairment of renal function. The water- and sodium-retaining hormonal systems also are stimulated and could participate in the fluid retention during more prolonged respiratory support with PEEP.