Patients with dilated cardiomyopathy (DC) have been reported to have abnormal left ventricular (LV) diastolic properties. To evaluate LV diastolic filling characteristics in patients with DC, pulsed Doppler echocardiography was used to study mitral flow velocity in 21 patients with DC and mitral regurgitation (MR), 12 patients with DC but no MR and 19 age-matched normal subjects. Diagnosis of MR was based on the Doppler echocardiographic finding of holosystolic turbulent flow in the left atrium. Peak mitral flow velocity in early diastole (PFVE) and during atrial systole (PFVA), PFVA/PFVE and deceleration half-time of early diastolic flow were measured from Doppler mitral flow velocity recordings. In 21 patients with DC and MR, PFVE (61 +/- 13 cm/s), PFVA (37 +/- 19 cm/s) and PFVA/PFVE (0.6 +/- 0.4) were not significantly different from PFVE (53 +/- 10 cm/s), PFVA (47 +/- 12 cm/s) and PFVA/PFVE (1.0 +/- 0.4) in normal subjects (p greater than 0.05). Deceleration half-time in DC patients with MR (62 +/- 32 ms) was shorter than normal (87 +/- 25 ms) (p less than 0.05). In contrast, PFVE (31 +/- 11 cm/s) was lower and PFVA/PFVE (1.7 +/- 0.8) was higher in the 12 DC patients without MR than in normal subjects and DC patients with MR (p less than 0.005). PFVA (46 +/- 8 cm/s) and deceleration half-time (88 +/- 33 ms) in patients without MR were not significantly different from normal mean values. Thus, abnormalities of peak diastolic mitral flow velocity were detected in DC patients without MR but not in DC patients with MR, suggesting that MR masks LV filling abnormalities in patients with DC.