The behaviour of the ST segment in everyday life was studied by ambulatory electrocardiography in 111 normal volunteers. Fifteen were excluded because of abnormal exercise responses (10 subjects) and significant postural ST segment shifts (five subjects). This left 62 men and 34 women, mean (SD) age 40.5 (12.6) years (range 20-67 years). Ambulatory monitoring of leads CM5 and CC5 for 24 hours was followed by a maximal treadmill exercise test. The tapes of the ambulatory monitoring were analysed by a computer aided system. The computer printed trend plots of the ST segment (measured both at the J point and at J + 60 ms) to detect episodes of ST segment elevation and depression, which were confirmed by visual analysis of real time printouts. Twelve subjects showed "ischaemic" ST segment depression and nine subjects showed ST segment elevation. Eight people with ambulatory ST segment changes were studied during exercise by radionuclide ventriculography and thallium-201 imaging scans. Although seven of the eight thallium studies were normal, radionuclide ventriculography showed functional impairment in five cases. Seven of the 10 subjects with abnormal exercise tests were similarly investigated and their results followed the same pattern, with normal thallium images in six and functional impairment in four. Ambulatory electrocardiography was repeated in 20 people after a median of 20 days. The ST segment changes were reproducible. ST segment changes of an apparently ischaemic nature occur even in a carefully defined normal population but they do not necessarily represent latent clinically significant coronary artery disease. This indicates that ST segment changes seen in patients with known obstructive coronary artery disease should be interpreted with caution.