We performed percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty as an emergency procedure in 60 patients with unstable angina pectoris that was refractory to treatment with maximally tolerated doses of beta-blockers, calcium antagonists, and intravenous nitroglycerin. The initial success rate for angioplasty was 93 per cent (56 patients). There were no deaths related to the procedure, although total occlusion occurred in four patients. Despite emergency bypass grafting, all four sustained a myocardial infarction. All the patients were followed for at least six months. Late cardiac death occurred in one patient, whereas eight had recurrent angina pectoris. There was no progression to myocardial infarction. The restenosis rate was 28 per cent (13 of 46) in the patients with initially successful coronary angioplasty who had repeat angiography. Improved cardiac functional status after sustained successful coronary angioplasty was demonstrated by an almost normal capacity on bicycle exercise testing and the absence of ischemia during thallium isotope studies in 80 per cent. We conclude that emergency percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty may be useful for the treatment of selected patients with unstable angina pectoris who are unresponsive to intensive pharmacologic treatment.