To elucidate the mechanisms of reduction of left ventricular end-diastolic pressure by nifedipine in certain individuals, we evaluated cardiac and peripheral hemodynamic responses in 32 patients after they were randomly assigned to nifedipine (20 mg sublingually) or to placebo treatment. Forearm plethysmography was performed during cardiac catheterization with micromanometers. No hemodynamic parameters were changed after placebo. Left ventricular end-diastolic pressure declined by 14% (p < .02) after nifedipine in patients with impaired left ventricular function, but was unchanged in those with normal function; indexes of peripheral venous hemodynamics (forearm venous tone, forearm volume change) were not affected. In those patients with abnormal left ventricular function, forearm vascular resistance decreased 36% and forearm blood flow increased 31% (p < .0005 for both), while neither changed in those with normal function. Cardiac output increased by 10% in patients with impaired left ventricular function but was unchanged in the remainder, while calculated total systemic resistance fell by 24% in those with abnormal left ventricular function (p < .002 for both). Thus, reduction of left ventricular preload by nifedipine is not attributable to venous pooling, but rather this beneficial effect appears to be attributable to improved left ventricular systolic function in response to afterload reduction, particularly in patients with impaired left ventricular function.