The intraobserver and interobserver variability in measuring the portal vein flow by the echo-Doppler technique was evaluated in a blind controlled study. A total of 22 cirrhotic patients and 14 normal volunteers were examined by two skilled operators using duplex Doppler within a period of 1-3 mo (6 cirrhotics and 7 normal volunteers by both observers). Area, mean velocity, and flow were measured (4 measurements: A, B on day 1; C, D on day 2). The intraclass correlation coefficient was used to assess both the statistical and clinical significance of intraobserver and interobserver agreement for the measurements of these three parameters. The level of intraobserver agreement for each parameter on normal subjects and cirrhotics was obtained from the two measurements on the same day and from the two measurements at the same time on consecutive days. Overall agreement between the four measurements was also calculated. Levels of interobserver agreement were obtained by calculating separately the intraclass correlation coefficient from each of the four pairs by measurements made on the same subject by the two observers over the same period of 2 days. The coefficient of variation was also used to compare the variability in these measurements. Overall, intraobserver agreement on normal subjects varied from good to excellent for observer 1, and from fair to good for observer 2. On cirrhotic patients, observer 1 was excellent at all times for all parameters. Observer 2 had lower intraclass correlation coefficient values, especially for velocity on consecutive days. For the best of the two observers on the portal flow, the coefficient of variation in cirrhotic patients ranged from 2%-30% with a mean +/- SEM of 12% +/- 4%. No acceptable interobserver agreement was found between the two observers in either of the two samples of subjects. These results support the use of this technique mainly for the determination of rapid and large changes in portal hemodynamics within a short period of time. The technique seems to have low precision in monitoring chronic changes in portal hemodynamics.