BACKGROUND: The cardiovascular assessment of patients with suspected pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) involves Doppler echocardiography and often subsequent confirmation by right heart catheterization (RHC). However, there appears to be limited consensus on the appropriate technique(s) for assessing PAH, and thus no clear, comprehensive guidelines exist for assessment of PAH. The aim of this paper is to review the Doppler echocardiographic and RHC techniques for the diagnosis and/or assessment of PAH. METHOD: We searched Medline (1966 to August 2006) and EMBASE (1980 to August 2006) bibliographic databases to allow identification of all potentially relevant studies and review articles. In addition, the reference lists of included articles were scanned to identify relevant references and unpublished reports missed by the search strategy. RESULTS: Our findings show that recommendations for the echocardiographic assessment of PAH at rest or with exercise are heterogeneous. Clinical practice guidelines provide limited details. Although more specific information regarding echocardiographic techniques can be obtained from individual research articles, the techniques employed and the methods used to calculate specific hemodynamic variables do not appear to be consistent throughout the literature. RHC techniques for the confirmation of PAH are more consistent, albeit less frequently reported. The literature search identified several articles where indications and considerations for the catheterization of patients with PAH are discussed, together with safety considerations and principles for the accurate assessment of hemodynamic variables. CONCLUSION: Although clinical practice guidelines and numerous research studies provide details of echocardiographic measures in patients with PAH, greater consensus and standardisation of measurement techniques is required. A minimum dataset for the evaluation of PAH by these techniques is suggested.