The purpose of this study was to evaluate the ability of three noninvasive techniques to detect silent myocardial ischaemia and analyse the factors associated with this condition, particularly left ventricular hypertrophy, in diabetic patients. An ECG stress test, a thallium-201 myocardial scintigraphy with dipyridamole intravenous infusion, ambulatory 48 h ECG monitoring and an echocardiographic study were performed in 92 diabetic patients without cardiac symptoms but with > or = 2 additional cardiovascular risk factors. At least one of these tests was positive in 28 patients (30.4%), suggesting silent myocardial ischaemia. Twenty-four of these patients had a coronary angiography which showed significant coronary stenosis in only 9 cases. An accurate echocardiographic tracing was obtained in 79 patients, particularly in 7 of the 9 with coronary stenosis. Left ventricular hypertrophy was detected in 34 patients, 6 of whom had coronary stenosis. In patients with left ventricular hypertrophy, the positive predictive values of myocardial scintigraphy and the ECG stress test were respectively 50% and 100%, as compared to only 33% and 11% in those without hypertrophy. In summary, coronary stenoses were found in < 10% of asymptomatic diabetic patients with > or = 2 cardiovascular risk factors, but more frequently in individuals with left ventricular hypertrophy. Thus, silent myocardial ischaemia should be searched for first in diabetic patients with hypertrophy, for which the stress test was the most accurate detection method in this study.