Arterial compliance, defined as a change in dimension in response to a given change in stress, is becoming an increasingly important clinical parameter. Related concepts, such as distensibility, elasticity, and stiffness, and more traditional concepts such as resistance, afterload, and impedance need to be differentiated from compliance, although they are frequently (inappropriately) used interchangably. Many studies cannot differentiate between compliance changes due to a drug's effect on blood pressure and those due to a drug's effect on vessel wall integrity. This differentiation is important because a more physiologic therapy, one that benefits pulsatile and nonpulsatile flow, should be of greater clinical benefit than a therapy that only lowers blood pressure. A number of methods have been used to estimate compliance, but to date there is no generally agreed-on best method. There also are no longitudinal studies that relate abnormal compliance and drug effects to outcome. Nonetheless, patients at risk from a variety of disease states, such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and hypercholesterolemia, may benefit from earlier recognition of abnormal compliance. Earlier recognition may lead to interventions that would reduce their risk. This review includes a discussion of compliance and related estimates of blood vessel function and attempts to summarize the data currently available regarding the effects of cardioactive drugs on arterial compliance.