Diastole, that portion of the cardiac cycle that begins with isovolumic relaxation and ends with mitral valve closure, results in ventricular filling and involves both active (energy-dependent) and passive processes. The interactions between active processes (myocardial relaxation) that primarily influence early ventricular filling and passive processes, such as loading conditions, myocardial compliance, and valvular disease, are complex. Clinical methods to assess ventricular filling include cardiac catheterization, radionuclide angiography, and echocardiography. Any measurements of diastolic function must be made with an understanding of the determinants of ventricular filling and the limitations of the diagnostic test. Many cardiac disorders are characterized by elevated pulmonary venous pressures in the face of normal systolic ventricular function, which suggests a primary abnormality of diastolic function. Abnormalities in diastolic function have been observed in coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure (with and without systolic dysfunction), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, hypertension, and in healthy elderly subjects. Identification of these abnormalities may be useful clinically, particularly in patients with symptoms of heart failure and normal systolic function. Data are not available to determine the optimal therapy for such patients, although evidence suggests that calcium channel blockers, beta blockers, and agents that reverse myocardial hypertrophy may be useful. This review briefly summarizes the physiology of diastole, the methods of clinical assessment of diastolic function, and the role of diastolic function in cardiovascular disease.