BACKGROUND: Cardiac disease is the principal cause of death in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Ischemia at dobutamine stress echocardiography (DSE) is associated with adverse events in these patients. We sought the efficacy of combining clinical risk evaluation with DSE. METHODS: We allocated 244 patients with CKD (mean age 54 years, 140 men, 169 dialysis-dependent at baseline) into low- and high-risk groups based on two disease-specific scores and the Framingham risk model. All underwent DSE and were further stratified according to DSE results. Patients were followed over 20 +/- 14 months for events (death, myocardial infarction, acute coronary syndrome). RESULTS: There were 49 deaths and 32 cardiac events. Using the different clinical scores, allocation of high risk varied from 34% to 79% of patients, and 39% to 50% of high-risk patients had an abnormal DSE. In the high-risk groups, depending on the clinical score chosen, 25% to 44% with an abnormal DSE had a cardiac event, compared with 8% to 22% with a normal DSE. Cardiac events occurred in 2.0%, 3.1%, and 9.7% of the low-risk patients, using the two disease-specific and Framingham scores, respectively, and DSE results did not add to risk evaluation in this subgroup. Independent DSE predictors of cardiac events were a lower resting diastolic blood pressure, angina during the test, and the combination of ischemia with resting left ventricular dysfunction. CONCLUSION: In CKD patients, high-risk findings by DSE can predict outcome. A stepwise strategy of combining clinical risk scores with DSE for CAD screening in CKD reduces the number of tests required and identifies a high-risk subgroup among whom DSE results more effectively stratify high and low risk.