Patients randomized to placebo in the encainide and flecainide arms of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST) have been found to have a relatively low 1-year mortality rate of 3.9% in comparison with previous studies of patients in the postmyocardial infarction period. To determine the comparability of CAST with previous studies, baseline variables were examined in the 743 patients randomized to placebo in the flecainide and encainide arms of CAST. Twenty-three baseline characteristics were correlated with major outcome events: arrhythmic death (16 events), total mortality (26 events) and congestive heart failure (51 events). On multivariate analysis the risk of new or worsening congestive heart failure was significantly associated with diuretic use, diabetes, high New York Heart Association functional class, age, prolonged QRS duration and low ejection fraction. The risk of arrhythmic death or resuscitated cardiac arrest was significantly associated with an index Q wave myocardial infarction, history of heart failure, use of digitalis, diabetes and prolonged QRS duration. Total mortality or resuscitated cardiac arrest was significantly associated with an index Q wave myocardial infarction, diabetes, ST segment depression, high functional class, prolonged QRS duration and low ejection fraction. The variables at baseline associated with mortality from all causes or arrhythmic death or resuscitated cardiac arrest and heart failure in the CAST placebo-treated patients are similar to those identified in previous postmyocardial infarction studies. Thus, the observation of increased mortality in CAST associated with the administration of encainide and flecainide for suppression of ventricular premature depolarizations is probably applicable to any comparably defined group of patients in the postmyocardial infarction period.