OBJECTIVES: The study examined possible clinical determinants of platelet resistance to nitric oxide (NO) donors in patients with stable angina pectoris (SAP) and acute coronary syndromes (ACS), relative to nonischemic patients and normal subjects. BACKGROUND: We have shown previously that platelets from patients with SAP are resistant to the antiaggregating effects of nitroglycerin (NTG) and sodium nitroprusside (SNP). METHODS: Extent of adenosine diphosphate (1 μmol/liter)-induced platelet aggregation (impedance aggregometry in whole blood) and inhibition of aggregation by NTG (100 μmol/liter) and SNP (10 μmol/liter) were compared in normal subjects (n = 43), nonischemic patients (those with chest pain but no fixed coronary disease, (n = 35) and patients with SAP (n = 82) or ACS (n = 153). Association of NO resistance with coronary risk factors, coronary artery disease (CAD), intensity of angina and current medication was examined by univariate and multivariate analyses. RESULTS: In patients with SAP and ACS as distinct from nonischemic patients and normal subjects, platelet aggregability was increased (both p < 0.01), and inhibition of aggregation by NTG and SNP was decreased (both p < 0.01). Multivariate analysis revealed that NO resistance occurred significantly more frequently with ACS than with SAP (odds ratio [OR] 2.3:1), and was less common among patients treated with perhexiline (OR 0.3:1) or statins (OR 0.45:1). Therapy with other antianginal drugs, extent of CAD, intensity of angina and coronary risk factors were not associated with variability in platelet responsiveness to NO donor. CONCLUSIONS: Patients with symptomatic ischemic heart disease, especially ACS, exhibit increased platelet aggregability and decreased platelet responsiveness to the antiaggregatory effects of NO donors. The extent of NO resistance in platelets is not correlated with coronary risk factors. Pharmacotherapy with perhexiline and/or statins may improve platelet responsiveness to NO.