To examine the effect of advances in the prevention of and therapy for PE, we reviewed mortality for PE in the United States from 1962 to 1984. Age-adjusted PE mortality increased by 67 to 100 percent between 1962 and 1974 for white and non-white men and women. From 1975 to 1984, these rates declined by 20 to 28 percent. Non-white PE mortality was greater than white PE mortality; men had a greater risk of PE death than women. Age-specific patterns (more than 40 years of age) of PE mortality followed those of the age-adjusted death rates, with increases noted in all groups between 1962 and 1974 and declines during the 1975-1984 period. These patterns might reflect improved ascertainment of cases and better prevention of disease. The magnitude of the rates suggests that the list of indications for prophylactic anticoagulation should be re-examined for possible expansion.