To evaluate the long-term prognosis of patients with acute chest pain, prospective clinical data and long-term follow-up data (mean 30.1 +/- 9.4 months) were collected for 1,956 patients who presented to the emergency department of an urban teaching hospital with this chief complaint. During follow-up of the 1,915 patients who were discharged alive from the emergency department or hospital, there were 113 (6%) cardiovascular deaths. No differences were detected in the post-discharge cardiovascular survival rates after 3 years of experience with patients who were discharged from the emergency department with a known prior diagnosis of angina or myocardial infarction (89%) and patients who had been admitted and found to have acute myocardial infarction (85%), angina (87%), or other cardiovascular diagnoses (87%). Patients who were discharged from either the hospital or the emergency department without cardiovascular diagnoses had an excellent prognosis. Multivariate Cox regression analysis identified 5 independent correlates of cardiovascular mortality after discharge: age, prior history of coronary disease, ischemic changes on the emergency department electrocardiogram, congestive heart failure and cardiogenic shock. These findings indicate that the postdischarge cardiovascular mortality of patients with chest pain who are discharged from the emergency department with a known history of coronary disease is similar to that of admitted patients with angina or myocardial infarction. These data suggest that the same types of prognostic evaluation strategies that have been developed for admitted patients with ischemic heart disease should also be considered when such patients present to the emergency department but are not admitted.