We investigated the hemodynamic effect of regurgitation (or back-flow) due to sudden failure of a rotary blood pump (diagonal pump). Seven healthy sheep (Group C) and 7 with chronic heart failure (Group F) were studied. Chronic heart failure was obtained by intracoronary injection of microspheres several weeks earlier. Left ventricular function and ventricular efficacy were assessed by the pressure-volume relationship. The back-flow through the stopped pump was significantly lower in Group F (2.3 +/- 0.34 L/min) than in Group C (2.8 +/- 0.33 L/min). Mean aortic blood pressure dropped significantly from 68.3 +/- 9.65 to 61.9 +/- 9.75 mm Hg in Group C and from 62.5 +/- 9.12 to 51.5 +/- 9.08 in Group F but remained stable during the 15 min period of pump stop. Parameters of left ventricular contractility (preload recruitable stroke work) dropped significantly in both groups, remained stable during the pump stop, and returned to baseline values 30 min after the end of back-flow. The ventricular efficacy (in terms of energy transfer) was tolerant against this acute volume overload even in the failing hearts. Sudden pump failure of a rotary blood pump leads to an acute depression of the hemodynamic state and myocardial contractility. However, this depression remained stable over 15 min, did not lead to further deterioration of the animals, and was completely reversible.