Patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) suffer from respiratory muscle weakness which may contribute to dyspnea. Nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP) can improve left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) and reduce dyspnea in patients with CHF and Cheyne-Stokes respiration with central sleep apnea (CSR-CSA) but its effects on respiratory muscle strength are not known. We therefore studied the effects of NCPAP on maximal inspiratory and expiratory pressures (MIP and MEP, respectively), LVEF, dyspnea, and fatigue in patients with chronic CHF and CSR-CSA over 3 mo. Eight patients were randomized to control and nine to nightly NCPAP. There were no significant changes in any of these factors in the control group during the study. In contrast, among the NCPAP group, MIP increased from 79.3 +/- 8.1 to 90.7 +/- 10.4 cm H2O (mean +/- SEM; p < 0.02), LVEF increased from 24.0 +/- 4.0 to 32.6 +/- 6.6% (p < 0.02) and symptoms of dyspnea and fatigue were alleviated. However, MEP did not change. In addition, the number of apneas and hypopneas decreased from 49 +/- 11 to 17 +/- 7 per hour of sleep (p < 0.001) and mean low Sao2 during sleep increased from 87.9 +/- 1.0 to 93.0 +/- 1.0% (p < 0.01). Our data indicate that nightly application of NCPAP in patients with CHF and CSR-CSA improves inspiratory muscle strength and LVEF, and relieves dyspnea and fatigue.