In patients with aortic valve stenosis, the determination of the transstenotic pressure gradient is usually performed by cardiac catheterization with retrograde passage of the aortic valve. The aim of this study was to determine retrospectively the risk of the invasive examination with retrograde catheterization of the left ventricle and predictors for an increased risk. From 1984 to 1995, 457 patients (63 +/- 11 years) with aortic stenosis were investigated in the Medizinische Klinik Tübingen. In 435 patients (95.2%), the retrograde catheterization of the left ventricle was successful; in 19 cases a transseptal left heart catheterization was performed, and in 3 patients an invasive determination of the pressure gradient was not assessed. Complications occurred in 39 patients (8.5%). 5 patients died due to the catherization procedure (mortality rate 1.1%), 2 of them as a consequence of perforation of the left ventricle, one patient of heart failure, one of myocardial infarction, and another of fulminant pulmonary embolism. Four procedures (0.9%) were complicated by cerebral embolism, in 3 patients a pericard tamponade occurred, and in one case caused by transseptal punction of the interatrial septum. The most complications were peripheral vascular problems in 19 patients (4.2%). Predictors for increased risk dur to retrograde catheterization were age > 70 years (p = 0.008) and aortic valve area < or = 0.7 cm2 (p = 0.02). patients with a doppler echocardiographic instantaneous pressure gradient > or = 70 mm Hg were more likely to sustain a complication (p = 0.04). The retrograde catheterization of a stenotic aortic valve was successful in most cases. In approximately 2% of patients, complications occurred which can be attributed directly to retrograde catheterization and with significant higher frequency in patients over 70 years and with severe stenosis. Especially in these cases, invasive determination of the gradient should not be performed if reliable doppler echocardiographic information is available.