To determine the value of exercise-induced R wave changes in diagnosing coronary disease 200 patients undergoing coronary angiography were studied with 16 lead precordial exercise mapping. R wave amplitude was calculated before and immediately after exercise as the sum of R in all 16 leads, the sum of the R waves in the left plus the S waves in the right precordial leads, as well as the sum of the R waves only in those leads that manifested S-T depression. Coronary artery disease was found in 154 patients, S-T depression developed in 122 (sensitivity 79 percent); the sum of R increased or remained unchanged in 61 and decreased in 93 (sensitivity 40 percent). Forty-six patients did not have coronary artery disease; S-T depression developed in 5 (specificity 89 percent); the sum of R increased or was unchanged in 30 and decreased in 16 (specificity 35 percent). Similar results were obtained using the other criteria for calculating R wave amplitude. Exercise-induced S-T depression was identified in 5. 1 +/- 2.6 (mean +/- standard deviation) of the 16 precordial leads and in 2.0 +/- 1. 1 of the chest leads of the standard electrocardiogram (p less than 0.01). Thus, electrocardiographic alterations found in the standard chest leads represent only a small variable proportion of the total projection. When the whole precordial area was analyzed, R wave changes were so unpredictable that they could not be used in the diagnosis of coronary disease.