Atrial natriuretic factor (ANF) is a diuretic natriuretic peptide hormone produced by both the heart and brain which has been postulated to play a role in the hemodynamic and sodium instability that frequently follows subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). Levels of ANF were measured in 12 patients with nontraumatic SAH and nine control patients with unruptured cerebral aneurysms. At surgery, the mean plasma ANF level (± standard deviation) of the SAH group was significantly higher than that of the control group (158.1 ± 83.8 vs. 57.8 ± 45.3 pg/ml, respectively; p = 0.01). There was no significant difference in serum sodium concentration, blood pressure, or central venous pressure between these groups. Nine patients with SAH due to aneurysm rupture had plasma ANF levels similar to those in three patients with SAH due to other causes. Four patients with moderate to severe SAH had significantly higher mean cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) ANF values (17.7 ± 12.8 pg/ml) than five patients with minimal SAH (0.6 ± 0.9 pg/ml) or the control group of nine patients (3.7 ± 1.3 pg/ml) (p<0.05). Five patients with moderate to severe SAH had significantly higher plasma ANF values (202.6 ± 72.2 pg/ml) than five with minimal SAH (86.8 ± 29.2 pg/ml) or the control group (57.8 ± 45.3 pg/ml) (p<0.05). Plasma ANF values were substantially higher than CSF ANF content in the SAH group (p<0.01) and in the control group (p = 0.05). From these data it is concluded that: 1) plasma ANF is elevated significantly after SAH; 2) this rise appears unrelated to the cause of hemorrhage, serum sodium concentration, blood pressure, or central venous pressure, but is related to the extent of the hemorrhage; 3) ANF concentrations in the CSF are significantly lower than in plasma, and are elevated after moderate to severe SAH; and 4) the source of CSF ANF is probably the plasma, and the source of plasma ANF is likely the heart.