Alveolar pressure can remain positive throughout the ventilatory cycle of mechanically-ventilated patients with airflow obstruction, even when positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) is not applied intentionally. The increase of intrathoracic pressure associated with this "auto-PEEP" phenomenon can severely depress cardiac output as well as elevate the end-expiratory pulmonary artery wedge pressure. Such effects may be exaggerated in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease because abnormally compliant lungs transmit a high fraction of alveolar pressure to intrathoracic vessels. Failure to recognize the hemodynamic consequences of auto-PEEP may lead to inappropriate fluid restriction or unnecessary vasopressor therapy. Although not apparent during normal ventilator operation, the auto-PEEP effect can be detected and quantified by a simple bedside maneuver: expiratory port occlusion at the end of the set exhalation period.