Quantitative angiographic assessment of proximal coronary artery stenosis was performed in 15 patients with consecutive presentations in two categories defined by clinical and angiographic criteria. Group 1 consisted of 10 patients who had new onset of refractory rest angina and ischemic ST-T changes, but no infarction, single-vessel coronary disease without collateralization, and normal left ventricular (LV) angiograms. Group 2 consisted of five patients who were similar to patients in group 1, but had subendocardial infarction (SEI). Quantitative coronary arteriography, using paired perpendicular angiographic views and digital computation, yielded statistically different lesion dimensions and hemodynamic predictions for the two groups. Minimum stenosis diameters were 0.88 00.14 (SD) and 0.64 ± 0.08 mm, respectively, for groups 1 and 2. This corresponded to 72% and 78% diameter reduction and 92% and 95% cross-sectional area reduction for the two groups. These small dimensional differences among lesions in the two groups resulted in large differences in their hemodynamic impact as predicted from classic fluid mechanics theory. We conclude that there are characteristic lesion dimensions for the isolated "critical" stenosis in these selected patients with rest angina. Further small increases in lesion severity result in SEI. Certain practical applications and limitations of these observationsare discussed.