Ventilatory impedance changes can be measured by electrical impedance tomography (EIT). Several studies have pointed out that the ventilatory-induced impedance change measured over the lungs shows a linear relationship with tidal volume. However, EIT measures the ventilatory impedance changes relative to a reference. Therefore, changes in the reference due to lung parenchyma destruction (increase of thoracic impedance) or lung water (decrease of thoracic impedance) might influence ventilatory EIT measurements. A study was designed to evaluate the influence of the density of lung parenchyma and the thoracic fluid content on ventilatory EIT measurements. Eleven emphysema patients with a variable degree of lung parenchyma destruction, nine haemodialysis patients with general fluid overload and ten healthy subjects were measured. The impedance changes were measured with the subject in the supine position breathing a constant tidal volume of 1 litre starting at the maximum end-expiratory level. In the emphysema group a significantly lower impedance change between ins- and expiration was found in comparison with the healthy subjects (11.6 ± 6.4 AU l-1 versus 18.6 ± 4.2 AU l-1, p < 0.05), whereas the haemodialysis group showed a significantly larger impedance change between ins- and expiration before haemodialysis (30.5 ± 13.1 AU l-1, p < 0.05). A significant decrease in ventilation-induced impedance change during dialysis was found (30.5 ± 13.1 AU l-1 versus 21.4 ± 8.6 AU l-1, p < 0.01). Furthermore, a significant correlation between lung function parameters, which indicate the severity of lung parenchyma destruction, and the measured impedance change was found in emphysema patients. From these results it can be concluded that the density of lung parenchyma and the thoracic fluid content have a serious impact on the ventilation-induced impedance change.