A double blind cross over study was performed to compare the long term hormonal, haemodynamic, and clinical responses to specific inhibition of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (captopril) and of the alpha 1 adrenoceptors of the sympathetic system (prazosin) both at rest and during upright exercise in patients with chronic heart failure. Sixteen patients completed one month's treatment with each drug. During conventional diuretic treatment (control) plasma renin activity, aldosterone, and noradrenaline were increased at rest and on exercise. Control left ventricular filling pressures were raised, and correlated significantly with plasma renin activity both at rest and on exercise. Systemic vascular resistance was increased at rest, and its reduction during exercise correlated inversely with the increase in plasma renin activity and plasma noradrenaline. After one month's treatment with captopril there were reductions in plasma aldosterone, weight, left ventricular filling pressure, and systemic vascular resistance at rest and on exercise. Dyspnoea was relieved and exercise capacity increased. The greater fall in systemic vascular resistance on exercise no longer correlated with the increase in plasma renin activity. During treatment with prazosin there were increases in plasma noradrenaline and, transiently, in plasma aldosterone. Fluid retention occurred, and left ventricular filling pressure was unchanged. Compared with control values systemic vascular resistance was reduced at rest but not on exercise. Dyspnoea and exercise capacity did not improve. In chronic heart failure, vasodilatation by inhibition of the alpha adrenergic system with prazosin causes compensatory stimulation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and does not result in clinical benefit. Inhibition of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system with captopril causes secondary vasodilatation at rest and on exercise and results in improvement in symptoms and exercise capacity.