Administration of angiotensin II causes an increase in portal pressure, and plasma concentration of angiotensin II is elevated in patients with cirrhosis, suggesting that angiotensin II may be involved in the pathogenesis of portal hypertension in cirrhosis. We evaluated the effect of the orally active angiotensin II receptor antagonist, losartan, on portal pressure in patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension. Thirty patients with severe (hepatic venous pressure gradient [HVPG] >/= 20 mm Hg) and 15 patients with moderate (HVPG < 20 mm Hg) portal hypertension at baseline measurement were treated with an oral dose of 25 mg losartan once daily for 1 week and compared with 15 (HVPG >/= 20 mm Hg) and 10 (HVPG < 20 mm Hg), respectively, cirrhotic controls. On the seventh day, HVPG was determined again, and blood pressure, heart rate, body weight, and parameters of liver and kidney function were recorded. Losartan induced a significant (P <.001) decrease of HVPG in the patients with severe (-46.8% +/- 15.5%) and moderate (-44.1% +/- 14.7%) portal hypertension, while no significant change was seen in the controls. Losartan caused a slight but significant (P <.01) fall in mean arterial blood pressure (-3.1 +/- 5.0 and -3.5 +/- 4.3 mm Hg, respectively). One patient treated with losartan had a short symptomatic hypotensive reaction after the first dose of losartan that did not recur despite continued treatment. No deterioration of liver or kidney function was observed. The present study indicates that angiotensin II blockade with orally administered losartan is safe and highly effective in the treatment of portal hypertension.