Echocardiographic assessment of right ventricular function remains difficult and challenging. However, there is considerable clinical need for a simple, reproducible, and reliable parameter of right ventricular function in patients with right-sided heart disease. The purpose of this study was to assess the clinical value of a Doppler-derived index, combining systolic and diastolic intervals of the right cycle, in assessing global right ventricular function in patients with primary pulmonary hypertension. The study population comprised 26 consecutive patients with primary pulmonary hypertension and 37 age-matched normal subjects. The sum of right ventricular isovolumetric contraction time and isovolumetric relaxation time was obtained by subtracting right ventricular ejection time from the interval between cessation and onset of the tricuspid inflow velocities with pulsed-wave Doppler echocardiography. An index of combined right ventricular systolic and diastolic function was obtained by dividing the sum of both isovolumetric intervals by ejection time. The index was compared with available parameters of systolic or diastolic function, clinical symptoms, and survival. Right ventricular isovolumetric contraction time and isovolumetric relaxation time were prolonged significantly in patients with primary pulmonary hypertension (85 +/- 41 msec and 135 +/- 43 msec) compared with normal subjects (38 +/- 7 msec and 49 +/- 9 msec, respectively; p < 0.001). Ejection time was shortened significantly in patients with pulmonary hypertension (241 +/- 43 msec versus normal [322 +/- 21 msec]; p < 0.001). However, the index was the single most powerful variable to discriminate patients with primary pulmonary hypertension from normal subjects (0.93 +/- 0.34 versus 0.28 +/- 0.04; p < 0.001) and was the strongest predictor of clinical status and survival. The index was not significantly affected by heart rate, right ventricular pressure, right ventricular dilation, or tricuspid regurgitation. It is well known that right ventricular systolic and diastolic dysfunction coexist in patients with primary pulmonary hypertension. This article reports the use of an easily obtainable Doppler-derived index that combines elements of systolic and diastolic function. This index appears to be a useful noninvasive means that correlates with symptoms and survival in patients with primary pulmonary hypertension.