Sensitivity of dipyridamole stress echocardiography (DIP-E) has been reported to be less than ideal in particular subsets of patients such as those with less severe extent of coronary artery disease (CAD). To verify if sensitivity could be improved, ATRO (1 mg in 2 minutes) was added at the end of a negative high-dose (0.84 mg/kg over 10 minutes) DIP-E in 61 consecutive patients (58 men, aged 53 +/- 7 years) evaluated for chest pain (33%) or for detection of residual ischemia after acute myocardial infarction (AMI) or previous MI (67%). DIP-E was positive in 28/61 (46%) and negative in 33/61 (54%) patients. Additional echo positivity was obtained in 18/33 (54%) patients after ATRO. Coronary arteriography was normal in 6 patients (10%); 1-vessel CAD was diagnosed in 28 (46%), 2-vessel CAD in 16 (26%) and 3-vessel CAD in 11 (18%) cases. The sensitivity for CAD diagnosis was 49% (27/55) for DIP-E and 84% (46/55) for DIP-E+ATRO (p < 0.001). Specificity was 83% and 80%, respectively. Diagnostic accuracy increased from 52% to 83% (p < 0.001). The better diagnostic accuracy of DIP-E was mainly related to the significant increase in sensitivity of the combined test in patients with 1-vessel CAD (from 46% to 75%) (p < 0.005). At quantitative coronary evaluation, compared to patients with positive DIP-E+ATRO or negative DIP-E+ATRO test, patients with positive DIP-E had a higher mean % diameter stenosis: 80 +/- 13% vs 72 +/- 24% and 65 +/- 36%, respectively. Peak heart rate was significantly higher after the addition of ATRO vs basal and DIP alone in patients with a positive DIP-E+ATRO test. The addition of ATRO to DIP increases diagnostic accuracy of DIP-E particularly in patients with less severe extent of CAD; ATRO may be considered as a useful routine procedure for increasing diagnostic value of DIP-E test.