OBJECTIVE: To assess serum interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) concentrations in patients with ischaemic heart disease, to characterise subgroups of patients with raised IL-1 beta concentrations, and to examine whether serum IL-1 beta concentrations correlate with non-specific indices of inflammation. DESIGN: Survey study of patients with ischaemic heart disease. SETTING: Cardiac catheterisation laboratory of a tertiary medical centre. PATIENTS: Consecutive patients with angina pectoris and patients recovering from uncomplicated acute myocardial infarction and undergoing elective coronary angiography. RESULTS: Mean(SD) serum IL-1 beta concentrations were higher (P < 0.001) in patients with angina and < 50% coronary artery stenosis (n = 11; 18.8(19.9) pg/ml), patients with angina > or = 50% stenosis (n = 23; 10.2(11.4) pg/ml), and patients 8(0.8) days post-infarction (n = 13; 4.4(5.8) pg/ml) than in 15 healthy, age-matched controls (0.3(0.5) pg/ml). Serum IL-1 beta concentrations did not correlate with total blood leucocyte counts (r = -0.07, P = NS), blood lymphocyte counts (r = -0.24, P = NS), and blood monocyte counts (r = -0.29, P = NS), or with fibrinogen (r = -0.16, P = NS) and C-reactive protein concentrations (9(10.5) mg/dl v 14.1(19) mg/dl for patients with undetectable and detectable concentrations, respectively, P = NS). CONCLUSION: Serum IL-1 beta concentrations are raised in patients with ischaemic heart disease, in particular in those with minimal coronary artery disease and angina. The precise role of IL-1 beta in coronary artery disease remains to be determined.