The volume-pressure relationship of the vasculature of the body as a whole, its vascular capacitance, requires a measurement of the mean circulatory filling pressure (Pmcf). A change in vascular capacitance induced by reflexes, hormones, or drugs has physiological consequences similar to a rapid change in blood volume and thus strongly influences cardiac output. The Pmcf is defined as the mean vascular pressure that exists after a stop in cardiac output and redistribution of blood, so that all pressures are the same throughout the system. The Pmcf is thus related to the fullness of the circulatory system. A change in Pmcf provides a uniquely useful index of a change in overall venous smooth muscle tone if the blood volume is not concomitantly changed. The Pmcf also provides an estimate of the distending pressure in the small veins and venules, which contain most of the blood in the body and comprise most of the vascular compliance. Thus the Pmcf, which is normally independent of the magnitude of the cardiac output, provides an estimate of the upstream pressure that determines the rate of flow returning to the heart.