To characterize the hemodynamic abnormalities responsible for exertional hypotension coronary artery disease, we studied 11 patients with exertional hypotension during supine cycle ergometer exercise, defined as > 10 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure during exercise, and 11 patients without exertional hypotension (controls). Patients were similar with respect to age, left ventricular ejection fraction at rest, and the intensity of exercise relative to maximal treadmill exercise capacity. Peak exercise ejection fraction, determined by radionuclide ventriculography, was significantly lower in patients with, than in those without exertional hypotension (50 ± 3 vs. 56 ± 3%; p < 0.025). Ejection fraction and stroke volume decreased with exercise in patients with exertional hypotension but not in the controls even though changes in end-diastolic volume and mean blood pressure were similar in both groups. Peak exercise systolic blood pressure and rate pressure product were significantly lower in the patients with exertional hypotension than those without. The exercise-induced regional left ventricular contraction abnormalities were more prominent, extensive and frequent in patients with exertional hypotension than controls. Impairment of left ventricular contractile function was further evident by an abnormal end-systolic volume-systolic blood pressure relation in patients with exertional hypotension. These patients attained a much smaller increase in systolic blood pressure compared with controls despite no statistically significant differences in end-systolic volume response to exercise. These findings suggest that exertional hypotension in patients with ischemic heart disease is associated with exercise-induced left ventricular systolic dysfunction secondary to extensive myocardial ischemia.