Left ventricular diastolic filling properties during isometric handgrip exercise were measured by pulsed Doppler echocardiography in 33 noninsulin-dependent diabetic patients with a normal ejection fraction and 15 control subjects. Diabetic patients were subdivided into two groups according to their resting left ventricular filling pattern (A/E): 18 patients were in group DM-1 (A/E < or = 1.1) and 15 patients were in group DM-2 (A/E > 1.1). At rest, A/E ratio and A wave were higher, and deceleration half-time was longer in group DM-2 than in normal subjects and group DM-1, but there was no significant difference between normal subjects and group DM-1. The A/E ratio increased significantly in all three groups during isometric handgrip exercise. However, the change in A/E from rest to peak exercise in group DM-1 (0.29 +/- 0.20) was significantly greater than in normal subjects (0.09 +/- 0.07). These results suggest that diabetes mellitus patients with normal resting left ventricular (LV) filling pattern (group DM-1) had LV diastolic filling abnormalities with isometric handgrip exercise. Doppler echocardiography with isometric handgrip exercise is useful in identifying underlying left ventricular diastolic dysfunction in diabetic patients.