Thirty-five patients greater than 70 years of age with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) were treated with emergency percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA). Seventeen (49%) patients received previous thrombolytic therapy: streptokinase (10 patients), tissue plasminogen activator (6) and combined tissue plasminogen activator and urokinase (1). Infarct-related artery patency was achieved in 26 patients (74%) after PTCA. Total in-hospital mortality was 34%. Univariate analysis showed a higher in-hospital mortality in patients with an occluded vessel after PTCA (78%) than in those patients with a patient infarct-related artery (19%) (p = 0.003). Symptomatic coronary reocclusion occurred in 3 patients (15%) during the hospital stay. Compared with emergency PTCA in 200 consecutively treated patients less than 70 years of age, the in-hospital mortality was increased (34 vs 6%, p less than 0.001), and the primary success rate was reduced (66 vs 90%, p less than 0.001). At a mean follow-up of 28 months, there has been a 13% out-of-hospital mortality rate in the elderly patients (3 patients died). Of the 20 surviving patients, 14 are asymptomatic and 6 have class II angina. In conclusion, emergency PTCA for AMI in elderly patients is associated with a decreased success rate and a higher mortality rate. However, the in-hospital mortality rate is not dissimilar to that in elderly AMI patients treated with conventional therapy or thrombolytic therapy alone, and the postdischarge mortality rates are low.