We prospectively evaluated 19 patients with prolonged chest pain not evolving to myocardial infarction and accompanied with reversible ST-T changes and tachycardia (heart rate greater than 100 beats/min) in order to correlate heart rate reduction with ischemic electrocardiographic (ECG) changes. Fourteen patients (74%) received previous long-term combined treatment with nifedipine and nitrates. Continuous ECG monitoring was carried out until heart rate reduction and at least one of the following occurred: (1) relief of pain or (2) resolution of ischemic ECG changes. the study protocol consisted of carotid massage in three patients (16%), intravenous propranolol in seven patients (37%), slow intravenous amiodarone infusion in two patients (10%), and intravenous verapamil in four patients (21%) with atrial fibrillation. In three patients (16%) we observed a spontaneous heart rate reduction on admission. Patients responded with heart rate reduction from a mean of 125 +/- 10.4 beats/min to 84 +/- 7.5 beats/min (p less than 0.005) and an ST segment shift of 4.3 +/- 2.13 mm to 0.89 +/- 0.74 mm (p less than 0.005) within a mean interval of 13.2 +/- 12.7 minutes. Fifteen (79%) had complete response and the other four (21%) had partial relief of pain. A significant direct correlation was observed for heart rate reduction and ST segment deviation (depression or elevation) (r = 0.7527 and 0.8739, respectively). These patients represent a unique subgroup of unstable angina, in which the mechanism responsible for ischemia is excessive increase in heart rate. Conventional vasodilator therapy may be deleterious, and heart rate reduction in mandatory.