Nitric oxide (·NO) is known to influence circulatory, neural, immunologic, and metabolic alterations. To evaluate the clinical significance of ·NO production under surgical stress, serial measurements of plasma nitrite plus nitrate levels were performed in 45 surgical patients. Group A included 19 patients who underwent major surgery with uneventful postoperative courses. Group B included 18 patients who underwent laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Group C included 8 patients whose surgery was complicated by intra-abdominal abscesses. Eight healthy volunteers served as controls. Plasma nitrate levels were determined with a redox chemiluminescence ·NO analyzer and coincided with measurements made by high-performance liquid chromatography (r = 0.868, p < 0.0001, 58 samples). During laparotomy, arterial nitrate levels correlated well with peripheral, portal, and hepatic venous nitrate levels (r = 0.966, 0.938, and 0.949, respectively;p < 0.0001). A significant decrease in nitrate from preoperative levels in groups A (postoperative day (POD) 1 and 3; p < 0.0005) and B (POD 1, p < 0.0001) was observed; nitrate levels in group C did not decrease for 14 days after surgery. Plasma nitrate levels in groups A and B were significantly different (POD 1 through 6, p < 0.05) and at POD 3 were significantly lower in group A (p < 0.005). Plasma nitrate levels measured before and after fasting or food intake were not significantly different. These results suggest that surgical stress leads to a decrease in the end product of ·NO in the whole body, and that the greater the surgical stress the longer the duration of decreased ·NO production.