The clinical syndrome of unstable angina includes patients with the first onset of angina, change in a previous stable pattern or the development of chest pain at rest. Administration of intravenous nitroglycerin is established therapy in unstable angina. Buccal nitroglycerin has been introduced as an alternative means of administering nitroglycerin, which provides relief of anginal pain within 2 to 3 min and a sustained effect for 3 to 5 h. Twenty-nine patients admitted to the coronary care unit due to unstable angina were randomized to receive treatment with nitroglycerin i.v. for 24 h or buccal nitroglycerin every 4 h. Therapy was titrated according to haemodynamic effects. The mean dose of buccal nitroglycerin was 4.42 mg versus 0.45 micrograms.kg-1.min-1 in the intravenous group. The efficacy of treatment was similar in the two groups. Buccal nitroglycerin appeared to cause fewer adverse effects, especially less haemodynamic intolerance and headache, although the differences were not significant. Repeated administration of buccal nitroglycerin appears to be a safe and well tolerated alternative to high-dose i.v. nitroglycerin treatment in unstable angina pectoris.