Hemodilution tolerance is not well defined in patients with coronary artery disease receiving beta-adrenergic blockers chronically. Ninety patients scheduled for coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery were randomized to a hemodilution (n = 60) and a control group (n = 30). During midazolam-fentanyl anesthesia, hemodynamic variables, ST segment deviation, and O2 consumption were determined prior to and after 6 and 12 mL/kg isovolemic exchange of blood for 6% hydroxyethyl starch. Hemoglobin decreased from 12.6 +/- 0.2 to 9.9 +/- 0.2 g/dL (mean +/- SEM, P < 0.05). With stable filling pressures, cardiac index increased from 2.05 +/- 0.05 to 2.27 +/- 0.05 L.min-1.m-2(P < 0.05) and O2 extraction from 27.4% +/- 0.6% to 31.2% +/- 0.7% (P < 0.05), resulting in stable O2 consumption. No alterations in ST segments were observed in leads II and V5 during hemodilution. Individual increases in cardiac index and O2 extraction were not linearly related to age and left ventricular (LV) ejection fraction (P = 0.841, P = 0.799). We conclude that isovolemic hemodilution to a hemoglobin value of 9.9 +/- 0.2 g/dL is well tolerated and fully compensated in patients with coronary artery disease receiving beta-adrenergic blockers chronically. Within the investigated ranges, the compensatory mechanisms during hemodilution are largely independent of age (35-81 yr) and LV ejection fraction (26%-83%).