The aim of this study was to assess the feasibility and diagnostic role of ergonovine maleate infusion under continuous two-dimensional echocardiographic monitoring for the identification of vasospastic myocardial ischaemia in patients with chest pain at rest not associated with diagnostic ECG changes. One hundred and twenty-eight consecutive patients, selected on the basis of absence of ischaemic ECG changes during angina at rest before or during hospitalization, were enrolled in the study. Ergonovine maleate was i.v. administered in scaled doses (from 0.025 to 0.2 mg at 10 min intervals) under echocardiographic, electrocardiographic and systemic blood pressure monitoring. Wall motion asynergies were observed in 33 patients, accompanied by typical chest pain in 24 patients and by ECG changes in 25 (ST elevation in 13 patients, ST depression in seven, T wave changes in five). All patients were able to complete the test. Non life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias were observed in four patients exclusively in association with ischaemia. In seven patients with a positive test, coronary artery spasm was documented at angiography. In 16 patients with a positive test, the vasospastic event was reproduced by a hyperventilation-echo test or a second ergonovine maleate-echo test performed within 3 days of the first examination. In none of the patients with a negative test was documentation of myocardial ischaemia due to a primary reduction in coronary blood flow. Thus, in patients who do not show ECG changes during chest pain at rest, the ergonovine maleate-echo test is feasible and safe; it permits the recognition of ischaemic episodes on the basis of wall motion abnormalities when conventional 12-lead ECG-recorded chest pain is non-diagnostic.