Emission computed tomography with thallium-201 was compared with planar imaging in its ability to detect myocardial infarctions of various sizes four weeks after the onset. Tomography was performed after planar imaging at rest in 160 patients with a first myocardial infarction, in whom infarct size was prospectively estimated by the peak value of creatine kinase activity at the time of the acute episode and in 39 patients without infarction. The planar images and the transaxial, short axial, and long axial tomograms were interpreted qualitatively. Tomography was significantly more sensitive than planar imaging in detecting anterior (87% v 96%), inferior (73% v 97%), and non-transmural (47% v 87%) infarcts. The increased sensitivity was confined to detecting small infarcts as assessed by the peak creatine kinase value (44% v 89% when peak creatine kinase activity was less than or equal to 1000 IU/l). The overall sensitivity was 96% for tomography and 78% for planar imaging. The specificity was similar (92%) with the two techniques. Thus emission computed tomography can improve the detection rate of small infarcts that cannot be identified on planar images, by showing the three dimensional distribution of thallium-201, and increases the diagnostic value of thallium-201 scintigraphy.