In a prospective, randomized study of cardiac surgical patients at risk for impaired cerebral blood flow autoregulation, we compared alpha-stat and pH-stat blood gas management. The 40 patients enrolled had age >70 yr, diabetes, prior stroke, or uncontrolled hypertension. During hypothermia and early rewarming, jugular oxygen tensions were significantly lower in alpha-stat patients (n = 12) than pH-stat patients (n = 19; P < 0.05). During rewarming, jugular venous desaturation (i.e., SjvO(2) <50%) occurred in 6 of 12 alpha-stat patients, but no pH-stat patients (P = 0.0006). Patients at risk for poor cerebral autoregulation have higher oxygen tensions and saturations if pH-stat blood gas management is used during cardiopulmonary bypass.