OBJECTIVE--To study the effects of adding a salicylate to the angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor enalapril in patients with heart failure due to coronary artery disease. DESIGN--Double blind, crossover study for three days in hospital followed by an extended similar study outside hospital over two months of once daily enalapril plus salicylate and enalapril plus placebo. SETTING--Tertiary referral centre. PATIENTS--20 patients with heart failure due to myocardial infarction (New York Heart Association class II or III) and an ejection fraction less than 0.40. Twelve patients completed the two parts of the study. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Blood pressure, plasma converting enzyme activity; plasma angiotensin II and noradrenaline concentrations; excretion of metabolites of renal and systemic prostanoids. RESULTS--The unloading effect of first and second dose of enalapril in the morning lasted only during the day; in the extended study it lasted 24 hours because of the drug's accumulation. Converting enzyme inhibitors attenuate the breakdown of bradykinin and therefore enhance prostaglandin E2 synthesis mediated by bradykinin. Evidence was found of such a prostaglandin E2 mediated contribution to ventricular unloading by enalapril, which was blocked by salicylate. The contribution, however, was small and variable, and salicylate addition had on average no significant de-unloading effect during the day. Unloading was abolished in only three of the 20 patients in the short term study and in one of the 12 in the extended study. At night, when other effects of enalapril on blood pressure had waned and the bradykinin induced effect persisted, salicylate significantly reduced the remaining small unloading effect. No effect was seen of salicylate addition on reversal of remodelling. Enalapril reduced angiotensin II induced synthesis of systemic and renal prostaglandin I2 and thromboxane A2, initially only during the day, but later also at night. It thereby masked suppression of thromboxane A2 synthesis by salicylate, which is the effect to which reinfarct prevention by salicylate is attributed. CONCLUSION--The risk is low that salicylate will substantially reduce the benefit of enalapril in patients with heart failure by de-unloading the ventricle. Like other effects induced by bradykinin significant de-unloading occurs in only a minority of the patients. In the presence of enalapril, however, salicylate will probably not be as effective as expected in reducing reinfarction risk, because enalapril already reduces thromboxane A2 synthesis effectively in patients with heart failure and no further reduction by salicylate was found.