The arterial resistometer provides continuous on-line monitoring of changes in arterial resistance. Resistance index (Ri), which bears a direct relationship to systemic vascular resistance (SVR), is defined by the equation Ri = P'/(dP'/dt), where dP'/dt is the peak dP/dt of the arterial waveform, and P' is the pressure at dP'/dt. In 42 patients with unstable angina, changes in Ri were studied at six periods during aortocoronary bypass surgery before tracheal intubation, during tracheal intubation, leg elevation, presternotomy, sternotomy, and dissection of the internal mammary artery. Thirty-four episodes of ischemia (0.1 mV ST segment changes) were observed in 26 patients. All ischemic episodes were associated with increased Ri (mean increase, 102 +/- 52%). Elevation of the pulmonary capillary wedge pressure correlated with ischemia during the preintubation, intubation, and sternotomy periods, but not in the remaining periods. Changes in arterial pressure and heart rate were not good predictors of ischemia. The prevalence of ST segment changes increased markedly during all periods of anesthesia with increase in Ri (P less than 0.05). Ninety-one percent of ST segment changes were associated with a 25% increase from the baseline Ri. Raising the cutoff point to a greater than or equal to 75% increase in Ri improved the specificity of Ri in ischemia detection from 61% to 92%. An increase of greater than or equal to 75% in Ri occurred in only 8% of cases without ST segment changes. It was found that an increase in Ri as depicted by the arterial resistometer was the best hemodynamic correlate of myocardial ischemia.