The purpose of this retrospective study was to examine 732 consecutive patients who underwent dobutamine stress echocardiography (DSE) in order to compare the safety and result profiles of this test between women versus men and in patients > or = 75 and < 75 years of age. Our study included 416 women (57%) and 316 men (43%; mean age 62 +/- 12 years [range 16 to 93]). Patients were divided into 3 age groups: (1) group I (n = 179): < 55 years (mean 47 +/- 6), (2) group II (n = 447): 55 to 74 years (mean 64 +/- 5), and (3) group III (n = 106): > or = 75 years (mean 80 +/- 4). DSE was more likely to have negative results in women than in men (prevalence of positivity = 20% vs 31%, p = 0.001), but DSE had a similar safety profile in both genders. Women required lower doses of dobutamine and atropine to reach an end point. There was a similar incidence of test positivity in older and younger patients (23% in group I, 24% in group II, and 30% in group III, p = NS). DSE was generally a safe test in patients > or = 75 years, but there was a different safety profile in the elderly group compared with younger patients--specifically, more frequent asymptomatic hypotension (7% in group I, 13% in group II, and 25% in group III, p = 0.0002) and ventricular arrhythmias (26% in group I, 30% in group II, and 41% in group III, p = 0.04), but less frequent chest pain (32% in group I, 23% in group II, and 17% in group III, p = 0.009). Multivariate analysis suggested that the baseline usage of beta blockers was also a major determinant of the safety and ischemia profile during DSE. In conclusion, there were significant gender- and/or age-specific differences in the safety and test result profile of DSE. These differences should be considered when performing or interpreting DSE, particularly in women and in patients aged > or = 75 years.