Conventional evaluation of cardiovascular volume status by filling pressures is unreliable in critically ill patients. Measurements of left ventricular end diastolic area index by transoesophageal echocardiography and of intrathoracic blood volume index by dye indicator dilution are new approaches to this problem. In this study, different indices of cardiovascular volume status were analysed to define their relation during the pronounced haemodynamic changes associated with systemic inflammation after cardiopulmonary bypass. Correlations were performed with left ventricular end diastolic area index, intrathoracic blood volume index, central venous pressure (CVP) and pulmonary capillary wedge pressure (PCWP). Data from 15 patients receiving coronary artery bypass grafts were compared after induction of anaesthesia and in the intensive care unit. Spearman's correlation coefficient for perioperative absolute changes in left ventricular end diastolic area index and intrathoracic blood volume index was 0.87 (P<0.05). However, an increase in intrathoracic blood volume index by 125 mL m−2 was necessary to maintain a baseline left ventricular end diastolic area index. Absolute values of all variables varied widely, with the only significant correlation found between CVP and PCWP. Changes in CVP and PCWP did not correlate with changes in left ventricular end diastolic area index or intrathoracic blood volume index. Provided simultaneous baseline measurements are available and a supranormal intrathoracic blood volume index compensates for the haemodynamic changes in systemic inflammation, left ventricular end diastolic area index and intrathoracic blood volume index may substitute for each other during the evaluation of cardiovascular volume status in patients with stable cardiac function.