To determine the accuracy of the cardiovascular physical examination for the diagnosis of asymptomatic valvular heart disease (VHD), we prospectively studied 143 subjects, 68 apparent normal subjects and 75 patients with diseases known to produce VHD. All subjects underwent a complete physical examination with dynamic cardiac auscultation by a physician blinded to clinical data and compared with the results of transesophageal color Doppler echocardiography (TEE). By TEE, 33 subjects (23%), and by physical examination, 25 subjects (17%) had at least 1 form of VHD. Despite a high frequency of mild valve abnormalities and a 31% prevalence of functional murmurs, the physical examination showed a sensitivity of 70%, a specificity of 98% (confidence interval = 0.51 to 0.84, and 0.94 to 0.99, respectively), and a positive and negative predictive value of 92% for the diagnosis of VHD. Only 2 of the 10 patients with VHD by TEE, but not by physical examination, had clinically important VHD. We conclude that the physical examination is a sensitive and highly specific method of screening for VHD in subjects without cardiac symptoms. Therefore, its use should be encouraged rather than the routine application of echocardiography.