During the course of chronic chagasic infection, low parasitemia levels prevent parasite detection by current techniques such as hemoculture and xenodiagnosis. Since serologic tests have sensitivity but lack specificity, molecular assays based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) have been proposed as alternative tools for parasite detection in individuals with chronic Chagas' disease. A variable degree of PCR efficiency has been reported in the literature and illustrates the need for further evaluation of large numbers of chagasic patients. In this study, we compared an optimized PCR technique with hemoculture and complement-mediated lysis (CoML) in 113 individuals from or living in endemic areas of Brazil who had conventional serologic results that were either positive, negative, or inconclusive. The PCR amplification yielded positive results in 83.5% (66 of 79) of individuals with positive serology, 47.6% (10 of 21) with negative serology, and 46.2% (6 of 13) with inconclusive serology. Of 10 patients with negative serology and positive PCR result, eight (80%) had positive CoML, indicating that they could have been chagasic but were not mounting immune responses. The PCR results were also positive for all individuals who had positive hemoculture, for 37 individuals with negative hemoculture and positive serology, and for two of six individuals with inconclusive serology and negative hemoculture. Thirteen individuals living in nonendemic areas who had negative serology were used as a negative control group: 100% had negative PCR results. Our results show that the optimized PCR protocol used here was very sensitive in detecting the presence of Trypanosoma cruzi in chronic chagasic patients. The PCR and CoML results were well correlated in all of the groups studied, which suggests that our PCR protocol may be effective in the evaluation of cure in patients who receive anti-parasite treatment.