Two new methods, application of negative pressure at the airway opening during expiration (NEP) and reduction of flow resistance by bypassing the expiratory line of the ventilator by exhaling into the atmosphere (ATM), were used to detect expiratory flow limitation in 12 semirecumbent (45 degree) mechanically ventilated patients, seven with chronic airway obstruction (CAO). An increase of expiratory flow with NEP or ATM, relative to the preceding control breath, was taken as indicating absence of expiratory flow limitation. By contrast, the portion of the tidal expiration over which there was no change in flow with NEP or ATM was considered as flow-limited. With NEP, nine patients exhibited flow limitation, six (all with CAO) were flow-limited over most of the tidal expiration (> 70% VT), and three at < 60% VT. Although the results with NEP and ATM were in general in good agreement, in the three non-flow-limited patients the ATM method gave erroneous results. Six patients were also studied supine, including two who were not flow-limited when semirecumbent: both became flow-limited when supine. We conclude that NEP provides a simple method to detect flow limitation in mechanically ventilated patients. The supine position enhances flow limitation.