Treatment of orthostatic hypotension due to autonomic failure frequently necessitates use of pressor agents. Because venous pooling contributes significantly to this disorder, the venoconstrictive properties of ergotamine offer theoretical advantages over pure arteriolar pressor agents. However, the low and erratic bioavailability of oral preparations has hindered the use of ergotamine. Accordingly, the efficacy of inhaled ergotamine tartrate (1 puff, 0.36 mg) was compared to placebo in 8 patients with severe autonomic failure. Blood pressure was monitored in the seated position with an automated device. Ergotamine produced significant increases in systolic (29 +/- 5 mm Hg, p less than 0.01 by analysis of variance) and diastolic (13 +/- 1 mm Hg, p less than 0.001) blood pressures compared to placebo (-9 +/- 5 and -2 +/- 3, respectively). Upright blood pressure 2 hours after administration was significantly greater with ergotamine (119 +/- 8/69 +/- 6 mm Hg) vs placebo (82 +/- 7/59 +/- 5 mm Hg, p less than 0.05). Motionless standing time, a measurement of functional capacity, also improved with ergotamine (200 +/- 58 vs 85 +/- 22 seconds). No side effects were noted, but patients with coronary or peripheral artery disease were excluded. Inhaled ergotamine may provide an effective and practical therapy for disabling orthostatic hypotension due to autonomic failure.