Portal triad clamping (PTC) reduces venous return of blood to the heart. However, the decrease in cardiac index (CI) is associated with an unexpected increase in mean arterial pressure (MAP) and the 40% increase in systemic vascular resistance is greater than anticipated in compensation for the 10% decrease in CI. We hypothesized that a reflex elicited in the peritoneum accounted for this unanticipated haemodynamic response. Twenty patients undergoing liver resection were allocated randomly to have hepatic pedicle infiltration before PTC with either lidocaine 200 mg or placebo. MAP was recorded, and plasma osmolality and plasma concentrations of vasopressin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, renin and endothelin were measured. After PTC, MAP increased significantly in the placebo group but decreased significantly in the lidocaine group. Plasma concentrations of vasopressin, epinephrine and norepinephrine increased significantly in the placebo group. Plasma concentrations of vasopressin decreased significantly in the lidocaine group, while plasma concentrations of epinephrine and norepinephrine were unchanged. A subsequent study in eight patients found that neither haemodynamic nor hormonal changes associated with PTC in the placebo group were altered by administration of lidocaine 200 mg i.m. before PTC.