1. Haemodynamic responses to exercise, posture and nitrates were measured before and after 8 weeks of therapy with an arteriolar smooth muscle specific calcium antagonist, nicardipine, in eight patients with congestive heart failure (New York Heart Association class II or III).

2. The acute haemodynamic effects of intravenous nicardipine before and after 8 weeks of oral therapy confirmed its vasodilating properties, with similar end-points to the initial response after the 8 week period.

3. After 8 weeks of oral therapy all patients improved by one New York Heart Association class and treadmill exercise duration was significantly increased. In contrast, sitting bicycle exercise duration was not prolonged, although, at the same peak workload, changes in cardiac output, stroke volume and systemic vascular resistance were significantly improved after 8 weeks of therapy.

4. Sublingual glyceryl trinitrate predominantly affected pulmonary vascular resistance before and after chronic therapy with nicardipine, although the effects were less marked after 8 weeks. In contrast, the systemic vascular effects of glyceryl trinitrate were significantly increased after 8 weeks of therapy with nicardipine.

5. Increased vasodilator responses to sublingual glyceryl trinitrate and exercise after chronic treatment with nicardipine, in the absence of significant residual vasodilatation at rest, suggests that indirect changes in systemic arterioles may accompany and possibly contribute to the clinical improvement in heart failure.

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