The effects of 6 months of replacement therapy with recombinant human GH (hGH) on physical work capacity and cardiac structure and function were investigated in 20 patients with hGH deficiency of adult onset in a double blind, placebo-controlled trial. The GH dose of 12.5 micrograms/kg BW was self-administered daily sc. Oxygen consumption (VO2), CO2 production, and ventilatory volumes were measured during exercise on a bicycle spiroergometer. M-Mode echocardiography was performed using standard techniques. The VO2 max data, expressed per kg BW (mL/min.kg BW) showed a significant increase from 23.2 +/- 2.4 to 30.0 +/- 2.3 (P < 0.01) in the hGH-treated group, whereas the VO2 max data, expressed per lean body mass (milliliters per min/kg lean body mass) did not change significantly in either group. Maximal O2 pulse (milliliters per beat) increased significantly from 15.2 +/- 5.6 to 19.6 +/- 3.3 mL/beat (P < 0.01), but remained constant in the placebo group. The maximal power output (watts +/- SE) increased significantly (P < 0.01) from 192.5 +/- 13.5 to 227.5 +/- 11.5 in the hGH-treated group, but remained constant in the placebo group. Cardiac structure (left ventricular posterior wall, interventricular septum thickness, left ventricular mass, left ventricular end-systolic dimension, and left ventricular end-diastolic dimension) as well as echocardiographically assessed cardiac function did not change significantly after 6 months of treatment in either group. We conclude that hGH replacement in hGH-deficient adults improves oxygen uptake and exercise capacity. These improvements in pulmonary parameters might be due to an increase in respiratory muscle strength and partly to the changes in muscle volume per se observed during hGH replacement therapy. Furthermore, an increased cardiac output might contribute to the improvement in exercise performance during hGH treatment. According to our data, hGH replacement therapy leads to an improvement of exercise capacity and maximal oxygen uptake, but has no significant effect on cardiac structure.