We sought to determine the risk for the first episodes of atrial fibrillation (AF) and congestive heart failure (CHF) in a cohort of patients aged >/=65 years who had abnormal left ventricular (LV) diastolic relaxation. Records were reviewed for all residents of Olmsted County, Minnesota, who had >/=1 transthoracic echocardiogram performed at the Mayo Clinic between 1990 and 1998, and who were in sinus rhythm and did not have a history of AF, CHF, valvular or congenital heart disease, permanent pacemaker, or stroke. Of 994 patients who qualified and had LV diastolic function assessment, abnormal LV relaxation was identified in 569 (57%), 105 of whom (18%) developed a first episode of AF or CHF over a mean follow-up of 4.0 +/- 2.7 years. Age (p <0.0001), history of myocardial infarction (p <0.0001), history of diabetes mellitus (p = 0.041), electrocardiographic LV hypertrophy (p = 0.0223), and indexed left atrial (LA) volume (p = 0.0003) were independent predictors. A stepwise increase in age-adjusted risk was evident when stratified by tertiles of indexed LA volume (<27 ml/m(2); 27 to 37 ml/m(2); >37 ml/m(2)). Compared with patients with normal LV diastolic function (n = 148, 15%), the risks for first episodes of AF or CHF were not different in those with abnormal diastolic relaxation if LA volume was <27 ml/m(2) (p = 0.303). In conclusion, these data suggest the presence of a wide spectrum of risks for AF or CHF in the elderly who have abnormal LV diastolic relaxation, with the highest risks evident in those with the largest left atria. When LA volume was <27 ml/m(2), however, the risks for these events were not different from those with normal LV diastolic function.