In 100 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), we found no significant correlation between simultaneous measurements of right ventricular ejection fraction, using radionuclide ventriculography, and pulmonary arterial pressure. There was, however, a weak but significant correlation between right ventricular ejection fraction and the pulmonary vascular resistance (r = 0.40, p less than 0.005). In 52 of these patients, 37 with pulmonary hypertension, right ventricular end-systolic volume index was 53 +/- 21 ml.m-2 and end-diastolic volume index was 86 +/- 27 ml.m-2, compared with a calculated mean of 33 ml.m-2 and 79 ml.m-2, respectively, for normal subjects. In 24 of these patients where the measurements were made at rest and on exercise, the mean right ventricular end-systolic volume increased from 66 +/- 20 ml.m-2 to 87 +/- 32 ml.m-2, with an increase in right ventricular systolic pressure from 28 +/- 9 mm Hg to 55 +/- 15 mm Hg. Analysis of the slope of the right ventricular end-systolic pressure volume relationship at rest and on exercise suggested relatively normal right ventricular contractility in the majority of patients. Thus, in these patients with stable COPD, despite the presence of pulmonary hypertension, right ventricular contractility remained relatively normal.