The prognosis for patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is poor, although clinical features are variable. Prediction of outcome has been difficult in individual patients based on laboratory data. In some patients with DCM, myocardial damage secondary to viral or immune-mediated myocardial inflammation may persist. To objectively assess inflammation, we measured plasma concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP) in 188 patients with idiopathic DCM over 5-8 years. All had dyspnea and fatigue at rest; all patients had a left ventricular ejection fraction less than 40% by echocardiography or by contrast or radionuclide ventriculography. We divided these patients into two groups: patients dying within 5 years following admission (n = 49) and the remainder surviving for at least 5 years (n = 139). CRP concentrations in the patients dying early were significantly higher than in the long-term survivors (1. 05 +/- 1.37 vs. 0.49 +/- 1.04 mg/dl, p < 0.05). Sixty-two percent of the patients with CRP>1.0 died within 5 years. In addition to other laboratory tests including electrocardiography and echocardiography, routine CRP measurements proved to be valuable for identifying high-risk patients who require special treatment strategies.