The prevalence of coronary artery stenoses ≥ 70% or left main stenosis ≥ 50% was evaluated in 20,391 patients who underwent angiography in the Coronary Artery Surgery Study from 1975-1979. After the patients with unstable angina or myocardial infarction were excluded, the disease prevalence in the 8157 patients with definite angina, probable angina, and nonspecific chest pain was 93%, 66% and 14% in men and 72%, 36% and 6% in women (p < 0.001). The age and sex of the patients and character of chest pain were important determinants of disease prevalence and severity. Left main or three-vessel coronary disease occurred in more than 50% of middle-aged men and older women with definite angina and in more than 50% of men who had probable angina and were older than 60 yrs of age. In contrast, left main coronary disease occurred in less than 2% of 1282 men and less than 1% of 1397 women with nonspecific chest pain regardless of age. In this latter patient subset, less than 5% of men and less than 1% of women in each decade under 60 yrs had left main or three-vessel coronary artery disease. Thus, high-risk coronary disease is common in middle-aged patients with definite angina and older patients with probable angina, but is rare in patients with nonspecific chest pain. Indications and guidelines for diagnostic noninvasive tests and coronary angiography could be based on these results.