The stiffness of the thoracic aorta can be assessed non-invasively. If aortic stiffness can be shown to be related to coronary heart disease, perhaps it can be used to identify which patients with hypercholesterolaemia are most likely to have atheromatous changes and thus to be selected for intensive cholesterol-lowering treatment. Hence the distensibility of the transverse aortic arch was measured by echocardiography of the aortic arch in four groups of patients--symptom-free patients with normal serum cholesterol; symptom-free patients with raised serum cholesterol; patients with coronary heart disease (all with raised serum cholesterol), and post-heart-transplant patients. In all groups distensibility fell with age. The regression slope was steeper (p less than 0.05) for patients with known coronary disease than for either of the disease-free groups, and among cardiac transplant recipients there was also a segregation of distensibility values between those with and without atheroma in their native hearts. The results indicate that aortic distensibility might be an indicator of coronary heart disease and that it might be useful in identifying which symptom-free subjects with modest hypercholesterolaemia should be treated aggressively.