Brief hyperventilation is occasionally accompanied by repolarization abnormalities in subjects without apparent heart disease. However, the effect of prolonged hyperventilation on repolarization abnormalities is not clearly defined. We analysed the repolarization abnormalities induced by prolonged hyperventilation, correlated with hyperventilation induced haemodynamic changes and exercise test results and assessed the effect on them of age, gender, smoking and hypertension. Prolonged hyperventilation (overbreathing at least 30 respirations/min for 5 min and 10 min recovery) was performed in 474 healthy volunteers (269 men, 205 women) 42.6 +/- 13.5 years old. The electrocardiogram was analysed for transient ST depression or T-wave inversion. Repolarization abnormalities were observed in 72 subjects, 47 men (17.5%) and 25 women (12.2%). Age, gender, smoking and hypertension did not influence the overall incidence of repolarization abnormalities. ST depression was more frequently observed in women (4.4 vs 0.7%, P < 0.01), while T wave inversion from negative to positive was more frequent in men (8.9 vs 2.4%, P < 0.006). All subjects with ST depression were non-smokers (4.1% of the non-smokers, P < 0.003 compared to smokers). Repolarization abnormalities occurred usually (80.5%), but not exclusively, within the first hyperventilation minute. Subjects with repolarization abnormalities developed higher heart rate change with hyperventilation than those without repolarization abnormalities (29.2 +/- 13.1 vs 24.2 +/- 12.7, P < 0.002). A positive exercise test was observed in 45.4% of subjects with hyperventilation induced ST depression but only in 13.1% of subjects with T-wave changes, P < 0.02. Repolarization abnormalities are not uncommon during prolonged hyperventilation. Hear rate change affects the occurrence of repolarization abnormalities, while gender and smoking influence the type of repolarization abnormalities. ST depression but not T-wave inversion during hyperventilation is associated with a positive exercise test. Increased understanding about hyperventilation-induced repolarization abnormalities could affect use of the method in the clinic, either as a provocation test or as a complement to the interpretation of the exercise test.