OBJECTIVES:This study was designed to establish the appropriate diagnostic criteria for positive dobutamine electrocardiographic (ECG) stress test results and to compare their accuracy with those of dobutamine two-dimensional echocardiography and perfusion scintigraphy. BACKGROUND:Conventional criteria for positive findings on ECG exercise testing may not be appropriate for use with dobutamine ECG stress testing. METHODS:One hundred twenty-nine consecutive patients with an interpretable ECG and without previous myocardial infarction were prospectively studied at the time of coronary arteriography. All completed a standard dobutamine protocol (5 to 40 micrograms/kg body weight per min in 3-min dose increments) without side effects. Significant coronary artery disease, defined as > 50% lumen diameter stenosis of a major epicardial coronary artery on coronary angiography, was present in 83 patients. Empiric receiver operating curves were generated for various ECG criteria derived from computer-averaged signals. RESULTS:The best ECG criterion, with a sensitivity of 42% and a specificity of 83%, was an ST segment shift, relative to baseline, of 0.5 mm 80 ms after the J point. The sensitivity of this criterion was greater than that of the conventional criterion of 1-mm ST segment depression 60 (23%) or 80 (18%) ms after the J point, was comparable to that of chest pain occurring during the test (44%, p = NS) but remained inferior to the sensitivities of technetium-99m methoxyl isobutyl isonitrile (mibi) perfusion (76%) or stress echocardiography (76%, p < 0.001, for both). The specificity of this criterion was not significantly different from that of technetium-99m mibi perfusion tomography (65%) or stress echocardiography (89%) but was superior to that of chest pain (59%, p < 0.025). CONCLUSIONS:We conclude that this new criterion for dobutamine electrocardiography is specific but that an imaging technique is still required to accurately predict coronary artery disease.