BACKGROUND: Abnormalities of the left ventricle are common in patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) both before and after the start of renal replacement therapy. The purpose of this study is to identify possible causes of subclinical left ventricular (LV) dysfunction in patients with ESRD. In particular, we sought to determine whether the presence of ESRD was itself associated with dysfunction independent of LV hypertrophy and coronary artery disease. METHODS: Assessment of cardiovascular risk factors and dialysis adequacy was completed in 145 unselected patients with ESRD who were recruited from the renal dialysis unit and compared with age- and sex-matched controls. Among the 68 patients with ESRD who had undergone a dobutamine stress echocardiogram with normal findings, regional cardiac function was quantified by myocardial Doppler velocity, LV volumes and mass were measured using three-dimensional echocardiography, and vascular function was assessed using brachial artery reactivity (BAR). RESULTS: LV diastolic velocity was impaired in patients with ESRD, but there was no significant difference in systolic velocity compared with control patients of similar age. Age, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and LV mass were independent predictors of diastolic velocity (model R2 = 0.45; P < 0.001), whereas age and risk factor number were predictors of systolic velocity (model R2 = 0.19; P = 0.002). Increasing risk factor number had no significant relationship with LV mass or volume. There was no detected association between BAR and incremental risk factors (P = 0.51). CONCLUSION: Subclinical LV dysfunction occurs in patients with ESRD, but is evidenced as abnormal myocardial diastolic, rather than systolic, function. Correlates of abnormal function are age, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and LV mass, rather than ESRD alone, dialysis adequacy, or abnormal endothelial function.