In patients with cystic fibrosis (CF), nasal intermittent positive pressure ventilation (NIPPV) is currently used as a short-term bridge to transplantation but its precise role has yet to be determined. Patients were offered a therapeutic trial of NIPPV when candidates for lung transplantation, with respiratory failure unresponsive to medical treatment. Twelve patients, six male of mean age of 26 +/- 1.4 years, had a trial of NIPPV. At recruitment the mean percentage predicted forced expired volume in one second (FEV1) was 15.1% +/- 1.2%, arterial carbon dioxide (PaCO2) 8.7 +/- 0.6 kPa, arterial oxygen (PaO2) with variable FiO2 7.4 +/- 0.6 kPa and arterial bicarbonate (HCO3-) 40.1 +/- 1.6 mmol l-1. Ten cases tolerated NIPPV for 1-15 months, mean 5.1 +/- 1.4 months, with subjective improvement in headache and quality of sleep. At 3 months, there was significant improvement in forced vital capacity, PaCO2 and arterial HCO3- and there was a reduction in the number of hospital inpatient days (P < 0.05). Subsequently three cases had lung transplantation, four died on the active list and three are awaiting organs. Two patients failed to tolerate NIPPV owing to abdominal bloating and increasing hypercapnia. In conclusion, NIPPV, if tolerated, was a useful adjunct in the treatment of CF patients with hypercapnic respiratory failure awaiting transplantation. Further prospective studies are required to determine the optimum time to commence NIPPV and to clarify its precise role.