The association beta-blockers plus isosorbide-5-mononitrate (I5M) has been proposed for the treatment of portal hypertension in patients with insufficient response to beta-blockers alone, according to hemodynamic criteria. The mechanism of action in these patients is not clearly defined. Fifteen patients with cirrhosis and esophageal varices were evaluated by hepatic venous pressure gradient (HVPG) measurement and duplex-Doppler ultrasonography before and after 1 month of treatment with nadolol. Nine patients who did not exhibit a decrease in HVPG to 12 mm Hg or a percent decrease greater than 20% were classified as poor responders, and were studied again with the same methodology after 3 months of chronic administration of nadolol + I5M 20 mg twice per day. In poor responders, mean HVPG decrease after nadolol was 8.9% +/- 2.8%, and after the combination, it was 25.7% +/- 1.7% (P = .004). All patients except one became good responders to the association. Portal blood flow (PBF) decreased significantly after nadolol (P = .004), and remained unchanged after the addition of nitrates. Resistance to portal blood flow (RPBF) increased after nadolol (P = .02) and returned to baseline values during combined treatment (P = .03). In good responders, an adequate decrease in HVPG was associated with a decrease in PBF (P = .06) but no change in RPBF. A wide spectrum of combined changes in PBF and in RPBF after nadolol was observed in poor responders, ranging from no change in either parameter to a marked decrease in PBF counterbalanced by a marked increase in RPBF. The addition of I5M was followed in most cases by larger effects on resistance than on flow. Doppler parameters were not significantly correlated with the HVPG response to nadolol alone or associated with I5M. It is concluded that good hemodynamic responders to nadolol differ from poor responders in the lack of increase in RPBF after the drug. The addition of nitrates to nadolol is effective in decreasing portal pressure in most poor responders to nadolol alone. A decrease in outflow resistance is the main mechanism involved.