The hemodynamic response to a 800 kcal liquid meal was investigated in 24 patients (study group) with cirrhosis and two control groups. One control group of six cirrhotic patients (volume control) had a calorie-free equivolumic electrolyte solution. The second control group (normal control) of six patients with normal hepatic function had the same test meal. Cardiac index, mean arterial pressure, heart rate, hepatic venous pressures, hepatic blood flow and azygos blood flow (only measured in the study group) were measured before and 30 and 60 min after the meal. Systemic circulatory responses were generally absent. Hepatic blood flow and wedged hepatic venous pressure increased significantly in both cirrhotic patients and normal controls; however, cirrhotic patients tended to have a quicker response (peaks at 30 min) than normals (peaks at 60 min). Azygos blood flow showed large postprandial variability, but overall did not change significantly. These results demonstrate that the splanchnic circulation of the patient with cirrhosis reacts differently from normals to the physiologic stimulus of a meal, and in particular appears to have precocious vasoactive reactivity.