Recent evidence has shown that improvement in left ventricular (LV) systolic function in patients with New York Heart Association class II to III heart failure occurs with beta-adrenergic blocking agents. However the specific effects on LV diastolic function have been subjected to only limited examination. This study investigated the effects of the combined beta blocker/vasodilator, carvedilol, on systolic and diastolic LV performance in dilated cardiomyopathy. Thirty-six patients with New York Heart Association II to III heart failure and LV ejection fraction < or = 0.35 were entered into either arm of this placebo-controlled, double-blind 4-month trial. Twenty-one subjects were entered into the carvedilol treatment arm and 15 patients were entered into the placebo arm in a 3:2 ratio. Carvedilol therapy resulted in a significant improvement in LV ejection fraction, from 0.22 +/- 0.02 to 0.30 +/- 0.02 when compared with the placebo group (0.19 +/- 0.02 to 0.21 +/- 0.02 at baseline and after 4 months of therapy, respectively; p = 0.0001). However, no significant change in radionuclide parameters of LV diastolic function, including peak filling rate or time to peak filling rate, was observed. LV end-diastolic volume index did not change with carvedilol therapy, whereas end-diastolic volume index increased in the placebo group, although the difference between groups at 4 months was significant (p = 0.02). In conjunction with these changes, end-systolic volume index was smaller at 4 months after carvedilol treatment compared with that of the placebo group (p = 0.04). Thus, these results demonstrate that in moderate chronic heart failure, systolic LV performance improves but diastolic LV function does not improve when compared with placebo after treatment with carvedilol.