Calcium antagonists can affect the arterial vasculature, the venous capacitance vessels and the myocardium. The net effect of these agents on left ventricular (LV) performance depends on the interaction of effects on these 3 vascular components, and the state of LV function at the time that the drugs are administered. A calcium antagonist with profound arterial vasodilator effect might favorably influence LV performance even if it had negative inotropic properties. To demonstrate the direct effect of nitrendipine, a 1,4 dihydropyridine, on LV performance, the acute hemodynamic response to oral nitrendipine was studied in 8 patients with congestive heart failure. Administration of 10 to 20 mg of nitrendipine reduced preload, caused a decrease in both pulmonary wedge pressure and systemic vascular resistance, produced a modest decrease in blood pressure and an increase in stroke volume. In addition, plasma norepinephrine levels were significantly decreased. Plasma renin activity also tended to decrease. These data confirm that the drug can favorably alter performance of the failing left ventricle and further suggest that the vasodilator effect is not accompanied by reflex neurohumoral stimulation.