BACKGROUND: International guidelines recommend that the decision threshold for troponin should be the 99th percentile of a normal population, or, if the laboratory assay is not sufficiently precise at this low level, the level at which the assay achieves a 10% or better coefficient of variation (CV). Our objectives were to examine US hospital laboratory troponin reports to determine whether either the 99th percentile or the 10% CV level were clearly indicated, and whether nonconcordance with these guidelines was a potential barrier to detecting clinically important microscopic or 'microsize' myocardial infarctions (MIs). To confirm past reports of the clinical importance of microsize MIs, we also contrasted in-hospital, 28-day and 1-year mortality among those with microsize and nonmicrosize MI. METHODS: In the REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke national prospective cohort study (n=30,239), 1029 participants were hospitalized for acute coronary syndrome (ACS) between 2003-2009. For each case, we recorded all thresholds of abnormal troponin on the laboratory report and whether the 99th percentile or 10% CV value were clearly identified. All cases were expert adjudicated for presence of MI. Peak troponin values were used to classify MIs as microsize MI (< five times the lowest listed upper limit of normal) and nonmicrosize MI. RESULTS: Participants were hospitalized at 649 acute care US hospitals, only 2% of whose lab reports clearly identified the 99th percentile or the 10% CV level; 52% of reports indicated an indeterminate range, a practice that is no longer recommended. There were 183 microsize MIs and 353 nonmicrosize MIs. In-hospital mortality tended to be lower in the microsize than in the nonmicrosize MI group (1.1 vs. 3.6%, p = 0.09), but 28-day and 1-year mortality were similar (2.5% vs. 2.7% [p = 0.93] and 5.2% vs. 4.3% [p = 0.64], respectively). CONCLUSIONS: Current practices in many US hospitals created barriers to the clinical recognition of microsize MI, which was common and clinically important in our study. Improved hospital troponin reporting is warranted.