Twenty patients with biopsy-proved alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and no cardiac symptoms entered a noninvasive investigation program in which cardiac performance was evaluated. One patient was excluded from the study because of a significant ethanol content in the serum at the time of investigation and 4 patients were excluded because of significant electrocardiographic ST-segment changes during exercise testing. Fifteen patients (12 men, 3 women, median age 47 years) who had abstained from alcohol drinking for at least 2 months were studied by exercise testing, echocardiography, measurement of systolic time intervals and left ventricular (LV) radionuclide ejection fraction (EF) at rest and during submaximal exercise. Twelve healthy persons of the same age served as control subjects. Heart rate at rest was significantly elevated in the patient group, median 90 beats/min (range 62 to 128) vs 73 beats/min (range 61 to 89) (p less than 0.02). No significant differences were found in physical work capacity and systolic time intervals, and echocardiographic parameters did not differ with the exception of left atrial dimension (median 36 mm [range 22 to 47] in the patient group and 31 mm [range 17 to 38] in the control subjects, p less than 0.05). No significant difference was found in LVEF at rest. During exercise, however, the median LVEF increased only 6% in the patients versus 14% in the control subjects (p less than 0.05). The results of this study suggest that patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis, although free of cardiac symptoms, may have a latent or preclinical cardiomyopathy that is manifest during physical stress.