The effect of spontaneous respiration on esophageal variceal flow was evaluated using 5 MHz color flow Doppler echography. Twenty-one patients with esophageal varices, of whom 19 had liver cirrhosis (95%), were examined with a convex array transesophageal transducer. The direction and velocity of the variceal flow during inhalation and exhalation could be inferred from the color, its brightness or the Doppler time-velocity spectrum. The mean intravariceal flow velocity was significantly higher during inhalation (20. 6 cm per sec) than in exhalation (11.5 cm per sec; p < 0.01). The direction of intravariceal flow at any given point did not change throughout the respiratory cycle. However, a combination of real-time color flow imaging and the doppler time-velocity spectrum revealed that, when the sampling point was near the peak of the curve of the varix, the spectrum falsely indicated reversal of direction between inhalation and exhalation. This semiinvasive method, which yields anatomical and physiological information simultaneously, appears to be very useful for the study of variceal flow.