Twelve patients with systemic sclerosis (SS) and severe Raynaud's phenomenon received infusions of prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) at a dose of 6-10 ng/kg/min, with either saline or 5% dextrose, for 72 hours in a single-blind cross-over study. The infusions were administered intravenously by centrally positioned catheters. Infusions were well tolerated with only mild side effects. Following the PGE1 infusion cold tolerance improved and attacks of Raynaud's phenomenon were less frequent, less severe, and shorter in duration. This subjective improvement was maintained for several weeks in most patients, and 2 noted healing of ischaemic ulcers. There was no significant change in objective measurements of hand function after either infusion. However, pain measured on a 10 cm visual analogue scale improved 2.19 cm with PGE1 and only 0.91 cm with normal saline (P less than 0.05). Temperature of the fingers and hands recorded by thermography did not change significantly with saline infusions, but did rise during PGE1 infusions (mean rise 2.0 degrees C at 48 hours, p less than 0.001), and was maintained when measured again 2 weeks later (mean rise 1.56 degrees C, p less 0.001). PGE1 may therefore be suitable treatment for Raynaud's phenomenon and the vascular insufficiency of systemic sclerosis and other connective tissue diseases.