The relation of cardiac dyspnoea to diastolic left ventricular dysfunction was examined in a sample of 67 year old men from the general population of Gothenburg, Sweden. Forty two men with cardiac dyspnoea and 45 controls were selected from the screened cohort of 644 men. M mode echocardiography, apexcardiography, and phonocardiography were used to evaluate heart sounds, diastolic time intervals, aortic root motion (atrial emptying index); peak rate of change in left ventricular dimension, left atrial and ventricular size; and left ventricular mass. There was a significant relation between dyspnoea grade and left ventricular mass and posterior wall thickness. Dyspnoea grade also correlated significantly with the amplitude of the rapid filling wave and the third heart sound, atrial emptying index and left atrial size, the pulmonary component of the second heart sound, and the dimension of the right ventricle. In mild to moderate dyspnoea fractional shortening was normal, but posterior wall thickness and left atrial dimension were increased. The time from the second heart sound to the O point of the apexcardiogram, adjusted for heart rate, was significantly prolonged in mild to moderate dyspnoea, but not in severe dyspnoea. There was a significant decrease of rate adjusted isovolumic relaxation time, probably secondary to altered loading conditions, in severe dyspnoea, but not in mild to moderate dyspnoea. When the effect of systolic function was excluded multivariate analyses showed that the relation between dyspnoea grade and left atrial dimension persisted. The finding that diastolic abnormalities of the heart contributed to the generation of cardiac dyspnoea may have implications for treatment.