Physical work capacity was evaluated by a multistage bicycle exercise test in 29 patients, 22 men and seven women aged 35-61 years (mean 49) with alcoholic liver cirrhosis and in a sex- and age-matched control group. The maximal work load was reduced in the patient group, mean 122 vs. 186 watts in men (P less than 0.001), and 60 vs. 119 watts in women (P less than 0.005). Resting heart rate was higher in patients (91 vs. 78 beats X min-1, P less than 0.005), and the maximal heart rate was lower (159 vs. 170 beats X min-1, P less than 0.001) compared with controls. Thirteen of 29 (45%) patients compared with 5 of 29 (17%) control subjects had an increase in left ventricular ejection fraction of less than or equal to 5% during exercise (P less than 0.05). The present results suggest that an impaired capacity of the cardiac function to respond adequately to physical stress may at times contribute to the reduced physical work capacity seen in patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis.