1. Basal forearm haemodynamics were studied by venous occlusion plethysmography in three groups of subjects: group I, healthy controls, group II, patients with cirrhosis age- and sex-matched with group I, and group III, an older group of patients with cirrhosis. Subsequently, responses to sublingual nitroglycerin were measured in group I and II subjects.
2. Controls responded to nitroglycerin with an increase in venous distensibility; group II patients had higher initial venous distensibility but did not respond to nitroglycerin. No other variables in either group were affected by nitroglycerin.
3. Group II and III patients differed in forearm blood flow and vascular resistance and venous distensibility. A significant inverse correlation was found between age and forearm blood flow (r = −0.57, P < 0.001) in all patients with cirrhosis.
4. We conclude that (a) venous tone is reduced in cirrhosis, possibly as a result of chronic venodilatation; (b) this venodilatation impedes further dilatory response to a small dose of nitroglycerin; (c) cirrhosis is also associated with age-related decreases in peripheral haemodynamics.