Minute ventilation, respiratory rate, and metabolic gas exchange were measured continuously during maximal symptom limited treadmill exercise in 30 patients with stable chronic heart failure. The ventilatory response to exercise was assessed by calculation of the slope of the relation between minute ventilation and rate of carbon dioxide production. There was a close correlation between the severity of heart failure, determined as the maximal rate of oxygen consumption, and the ventilatory response to exercise. Reanalysis of the data after correction for ventilation of anatomical dead space did not significantly weaken the correlation but reduced the slope of the relation by approximately one third. These results show that the increased ventilatory response to exercise in patients with chronic heart failure is largely caused by mechanisms other than increased ventilation of anatomical dead space. This finding supports the concept that a significant pulmonary ventilation/perfusion mismatch develops in patients with chronic heart failure and suggests that the magnitude of this abnormality is directly related to the severity of chronic heart failure.