Coronary angioplasty without prior thrombolytic therapy was performed in 383 patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI). Patients were divided into 2 groups depending on whether they were candidates or non-candidates for thrombolytic therapy. Patients were not considered thrombolytic candidates if they: (1) presented in cardiogenic shock, (2) were greater than or equal to 75 years of age, (3) had had coronary artery bypass surgery or, (4) had a reperfusion time of greater than 6 hours. Thrombolytic and nonthrombolytic candidates had similar rates of reperfusion (92 vs 88%), nonfatal reinfarction (6.0 vs 5.9%) and recurrent myocardial ischemia (1.8 vs 0%). Thrombolytic candidates had a lower mortality rate (3.9 vs 24%, p less than 0.0001) and a lower incidence of bleeding (4.6 vs 10.9%, p less than 0.05). Improvement in left ventricular ejection fraction at follow-up angiography was 4.4% in thrombolytic and 10.5% in nonthrombolytic candidates (p less than 0.002). Ejection fraction improved most in patients with anterior wall AMI (7.7% in thrombolytic candidates, 15.1% in nonthrombolytic candidates) and in patients with reperfusion times greater than 6 hours (14.2%). These outcomes suggest that direct coronary angioplasty is a viable alternative method of reperfusion in patients with AMI who are candidates for thrombolytic therapy. Nonthrombolytic candidates are a high-risk group of patients. Direct coronary angioplasty may be beneficial in certain subgroups, especially for patients in cardiogenic shock and for patients presenting greater than 6 hours after the onset of chest pain with evidence of ongoing ischemia.