Cardiogenic pulmonary edema is a frequent cause of reparatory failure. We investigated the effects of nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) in patients with severe pulmonary edema associated with acute myocardial infarction. Twenty-nine consecutive patients were divided into 3 groups: firstly, 7 intubated patients who received mechanical ventilation at study entry comprised the intubation group. The rest of the patients were randomly assigned to either of the following 2 groups: 11 patients who received oxygen plus CPAP delivered by a nasal mask (CPAP group), and 11 patients who received oxygen only via face mask (oxygen group). All patients in the intubation group had cardiogenic shock. Two patients (18%) in the CPAP group and 8 patients (73%) in the oxygen group required mechanical ventilation with endotracheal intubation (p=0.03). The hospital mortality rate in the CPAP group (9%) was significantly lower than the oxygen group (64%, p=0.02). The pulmonary artery wedge pressure and heart rate were significantly lower in the CPAP group than in the oxygen group 24 h after study entry (p<0.05 and p<0.01). The mean pulmonary artery pressure 48 h after study entry was 18+/-5 mmHg in the CPAP group and 25+/-8 mmHg in the oxygen group (p<0.05). The PaO2/FiO2 ratio increased in the intubation group (168+/-69 to 240+/-57, p<0.05) and the CPAP group (137+/-17 to 253+/-67, p<0.01) 24 h after study entry. Arterial plasma endothelin-1 concentrations decreased significantly earlier in the CPAP group than in the oxygen group (p<0.05). In patients without cardiogenic shock, nasal CPAP lead to an early improvement in oxygenation and hemodynamics, and decreased the mortality rate. Early and active respiratory management is recommended in patients with pulmonary edema associated with acute myocardial infarction.