The aim of the study was the determination of the influence of ventilation modes on the consumption of analgesics and sedatives, duration of intubation and pulmonary gas exchange. Assist/controlled mandatory ventilation (S-CMV, 123 patients), synchronized intermittent mandatory ventilation (S-IMV, 431 patients) and biphasic positive airway pressure ventilation (BIPAP, 42 patients) were compared in a prospective, controlled, open clinical trial over an 18-month period. Five hundred and ninety-six adult patients with normal pulmonary function before surgery and uneventful course following coronary artery bypass graft surgery were studied. Patients ventilated with BIPAP had a significantly shorter mean duration of intubation (10.1 h, P < 0.05) than patients treated with S-IMV (14.7 h) and S-CMV (13.2 h). In the S-CMV group, 39.9% of the patients required single or multiple doses of midazolam, but only 13.5% in the S-IMV group and 9.5% in the BIPAP group. The mean total amount of midazolam administered to these patients was significantly higher in the S-CMV group (8.8 mg) than in the S-IMV group (6.6 mg, P < 0.05) and in the BIPAP group (4.3 mg, P < 0.05). The consumption of pethidine and piritramide did not differ between S-CMV and S-IMV, but was significantly lower during BIPAP (P < 0.05). After extubation the patients' PaCO2 was highest in the S-CMV group. We conclude that ventilatory support with BIPAP reduces the consumption of analgesics and sedatives, and the duration of intubation. The possibility of unrestricted spontaneous breathing in all phases of the respiratory cycle is considered to be the reason. BIPAP seems to be an alternative to S-CMV and S-IMV in short-term ventilated patient.