Of the 400,000-500,000 permanent pacemaker leads implanted worldwide each year, around 10% may eventually fail or become infected, becoming potential candidates for removal. Intravascular techniques for removing problematic or infected leads evolved over a 5-year period (1989-1993). This article analyzes results from January 1994 through April 1996, a period during which techniques were fairly stable. Extraction of 3,540 leads from 2,338 patients was attempted at 226 centers. Indications were: infection (27%), nonfunctional or incompatible leads (25%), Accufix or Encore leads (46%), or other causes (2%). Patients were 64+/-17 years of age (range 5-96); 59% were men, 41% women. Leads were implanted 47+/-41 months (maximum 26 years), in the atrium (53%), ventricle (46%), or SVC (1%). Extraction was attempted via the implant vein using locking stylets and dilator sheaths, and/or transfemorally using snares, retrieval baskets, and sheaths. Complete removal was achieved for 93% of leads, partial for 5%, and 2% were not removed. Risk of incomplete or failed extraction increased with implant duration (P<0.0001), less experienced physicians (P<0.0001), ventricular leads (P<0.005), noninfected patients (P<0.0005), and younger patients (P<0.0001). Major complications were reported for 1.4% of patients (<1% at centers with >300 cases), minor for 1.7%. Risk of complications increased with number of leads removed (P<0.005) and with less experienced physicians (P<0.005); risk of major complications was higher for women (P<0.01). Given physician experience, appropriate precautions, and appropriate patient selection, contemporary lead removal techniques allow success with low complication rates.