Vasodilators acutely reduce afterload and improve hemodynamics in congestive heart failure. Intravenous nitroprusside reduces left ventricular filling pressure and increases cardiac output while modestly reducing blood pressure and not changing heart rate in patients with heart failure in whom this response is characteristic. Comparably reduced blood pressure during nitroprusside infusion in normal subjects or hypertensive patients without failure results in a decrease in cardiac output and tachycardia. Long-acting vasodilators are also effective in patients with congestive heart failure. Nitrates, predominant venodllators, decrease left ventricular filling pressure as much as nitroprusside does, but increase cardiac output less. Hydralazine, an arterial dilator, increases cardiac output similarly to nitroprusside but decreases filling pressure less. Combining hydralazine with nitrates results in hemodynamic effects almost identical to those of nitroprusside. The quinazoline derivatives, trlmazosin and prazosin, are also effective vasodilators, which act on both arteries and veins in patients with congestive heart failure. The hemodynamic response to vasodilators is influenced by the underlying hemodynamic status, as the change in cardiac output is directly related to base line ventricular filling pressure as well as systemic vascular resistance, and inversely related to the base line cardiac output. Response to vasodilators does not appear to be altered by age, diabetes, acute myocardial infarction or the cause of congestive myocardiopathy.