The recognition of silent myocardial ischemia (SMI) has been demonstrated to have important clinical relevance. Two-channel ambulatory (Holter) electrocardiographic recording is a commonly utilized method for detecting transient electrocardiographic ST segment changes representative of SMI. It has been suggested that the analysis of two channels alone may not adequately detect SMI. We therefore evaluated the diagnostic yield of three channels using a three-channel electrocardiographic monitoring device in 46 consecutive patients (age 61 +/- 9 years) undergoing percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty of an isolated single-vessel stenosis. Modified bipolar chest leads V2, V5, and AVF (CM-V2, CM-V5, and CS-AVF) were utilized for analysis. The percent detection of ST segment changes from various combinations of two-lead recordings were compared to the total three leads, and an absolute transient ST segment shift (STSS) of greater than or equal to 1 mm during balloon inflation was considered as evidence of myocardial ischemia. One patient was excluded because of the need for ventricular pacing during balloon inflation. A total of 33 of 45 patients had STSS in all three leads (percent detection = 73%), while 32 (71%) had STSS in the two-lead grouping with the highest diagnostic yield (CM-V2/CM-V5; p = ns). Of the various two-lead combinations studied, leads CM-V2 and CM-V5 provided the best lead set overall for the detection of ischemic STSS. Three-channel ambulatory electrocardiographic recording only marginally improves upon the detection of ischemia when compared with standard (CM-V2/CM-V5 or CM-V5/CS-AVF) two-channel ambulatory electrocardiographic recordings.