Aortic atheroma detected by transoesophageal echocardiography has been reported to be a good prognostic marker for coronary disease on angiography. The value of this detection in valvular heart disease would be to avoid preoperative coronary angiography in asymptomatic patients. The aim of this study was to assess the prognostic value of aortic atheroma in a population with a low prevalence of coronary artery disease in whom transoesophageal echocardiography was systematically performed. In addition, calcification of the aortic knuckle, a marker of atherosclerosis, was analysed by simple chest X-ray. One hundred and ninety two patients (103 men, 89 women; mean age: 63.1 +/- 15 years), operated for mitral valve replacement, underwent transoesophageal echocardiography, angiography, within 6 months, and chest X-ray. The cardiovascular risk factors, presence of aortic atherome, angiographic coronary artery disease and aortic calcification were studied. Aortic atheroma was observed in 72 patients (37.5%), usually in the descending thoracic aorta (73.6%). Coronary stenosis was observed in 36 patients (18.7%). On univariate analysis, aortic atherome predicted coronary stenosis with a sensitivity of 53%, specificity of 66% and positive predictive value of 26% and negative predictive value of 86%, compared with chest X-ray: 71%, 65%, 33% and 90%, respectively. In multivariate analysis, only hypercholesterolaemia, smoking and age predicted the presence of coronary artery disease. The presence of aortic atheroma was not predictive (p = 0.3). The authors conclude that aortic atheroma does not predict the presence of coronary artery disease in a patient population with mitral valve disease and a low prevalence of coronary artery disease. Simple chest X-ray has almost the same diagnostic value. The association of these two investigations does not give sufficient negative predictive values to avoid coronary angiography.