To assess the ability of the ST segment/heart rate (ST/HR) slope to identify three-vessel coronary disease and the relationship between the ST/HR slope and the anatomic extent of disease as determined by the Gensini and Duke jeopardy scores, the exercise ECGs of 128 patients with stable angina were compared with findings at coronary cineangiography. A ST/HR slope greater than or equal to 6 microV/beat/min identified three-vessel coronary disease with a sensitivity of 93% compared with sensitivities of only 50% for early positive standard test responses (p less than 0.001) and 66% for markedly positive standard test responses (p less than 0.01). The negative predictive value of this ST/HR slope partition for three-vessel disease was 94%. Patients with ST/HR slopes greater than or equal to 6 who did not have three-vessel disease had anatomically more extensive obstruction than did patients with lower test values (mean Gensini score 43 +/- 5 vs 22 +/- 3, p less than 0.002 and mean jeopardy score 4.8 +/- 0.4 vs 3.0 +/- 0.3, p less than 0.01). Test performance of the calculated ST/HR slope exceeded that of a simplified index derived by dividing the total change in ST segment depression by the total change in heart rate. These findings demonstrate that a ST/HR slope greater than or equal to 6 is highly sensitive for the identification of three-vessel coronary disease and also identifies patients with anatomically severe obstruction. A ST/HR slope less than 6 makes three-vessel coronary disease or otherwise anatomically extensive coronary obstruction unlikely.