This study examined the relation between the risk of cardiac rupture and the timing of thrombolytic therapy for acute myocardial infarction. To test the hypothesis that cardiac rupture is prevented by early thrombolytic therapy but is promoted by late treatment, randomized controlled trials of thrombolytic agents for myocardial infarction were pooled. A logistic regression model including 58 cases of cardiac rupture among 1,638 patients from four trials showed that the odds ratio (treated/control) of cardiac rupture was directly correlated with time to treatment (p = 0.01); at 7 h, the odds ratio was 0.4 (95% confidence limits 0.17 to 0.93); at 11 h, it was 0.93 (0.53 to 1.60) and at 17 h, it was 3.21 (1.10 to 10.1). Analysis of data from the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Streptochinasi nell'Infarto Miocardico (GISSI) trial independently confirmed the relation between time to thrombolytic therapy and risk of cardiac rupture (p = 0.03). Analysis of 4,692 deaths in 44,346 patients demonstrated that the odds ratio of death was also directly correlated with time to treatment (p = 0.006); at 3 h, the odds ratio for death was 0.72 (0.67 to 0.77); at 14 h, it was 0.88 (0.77 to 1.00) and at 21 h, it was 1 (0.82 to 1.37). Thrombolytic therapy early after acute myocardial infarction improves survival and decreases the risk of cardiac rupture. Late administration of thrombolytic therapy also appears to improve survival but may increase the risk of cardiac rupture.