We examined the relation between changes in R-to-T wave amplitude ratios (R:T) and left ventricular (LV) performance as cardiac output was rapidly varied by inferior vena caval occlusion in 6 subjects prior to cardiopulmonary bypass. To assess the influence of contractility, paired studies before and after bypass were performed in 4 subjects. Stroke volume and cardiac output were assessed by aortic flow probe, and transesophageal echocardiographic LV area measures using the automated border-detection method were used to give LV stroke area, stroke force, maximal LV area, fractional area change, end-systolic elastance, and preload recruitable stroke force. Data were collected on computer and analyzed by linear regression. Significant changes in R:T and measured LV variables during the inferior vena caval occlusion were stroke volume (r = 0.81), LV stroke area (r = 0.77), LV stroke force (r = 0.81), maximal LV area (r = 0.78), and cardiac output (r = 0.80). However, R:T varied inconsistently in relation to fractional area change. After cardiopulmonary bypass, the linear relation between R:T with LV stroke force, LV stroke volume, and maximal LV area persisted, but at a lesser slope. Although absolute pre-inferior vena caval occlusion R:T did not correlate with end-systolic elastance or preload recruitable stroke force, the change in the slope of these linear relations correlated well with the change in end-systolic elastance after surgery (r = 0.92). Instantaneous changes in electrocardiographic morphology reflect changes in LV preload-dependent variables, whereas long-term changes in electrocardiographic morphology may also reflect changes in contractile state.