A total of 34 severely obese men with a history of heavy snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness indicative of obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) were studied prospectively. Their mean age was 46 years, and mean body mass index was 41.6 kg m-2. During a 4-year follow-up, 15% (5/34) of these subjects died (three cases of acute myocardial infarction and two cases of pulmonary oedema), all of them suddenly and unexpectedly, outside hospital. On autopsy the degree of atherosclerosis was found to be moderate in all cases. In 68% (15/22) of the men a pathological apnoea index (mean value 46 +/- 20) confirmed the OSAS diagnosis. Exercise tests and neurological examinations did not reveal any other causes of daytime sleepiness. Mean blood pressure at rest and during exercise was normal, and mean serum lipid and blood glucose levels were normal. Spirometry revealed intrapulmonary restrictive changes that could not be attributed to the heavy thoracic wall. Compliance was reduced to about 50% of reference values, and the mean pCO2 level (5.8 kPa) was close to the upper reference limit. Blood tests suggested that high alcohol consumption may be an important factor contributing to OSAS. These results demonstrate that morbidly obese men with a history of OSAS have a high risk of sudden cardiovascular death, despite the absence of other conventional risk factors.