Atrial fibrillation is the most frequently encountered arrhythmia following cardiac surgery. Since the essential trace elements zinc, copper, and magnesium are suspected to have an effect on postoperative atrial fibrillation, the concentrations of these elements were determined by flame atomic absorption spectrophotometry in the plasma of 60 patients undergoing elective coronary artery bypass grafting. Blood samples were collected every 30 min during cardiopulmonary bypass and postoperatively. Plasma concentrations of copper, zinc, and magnesium were measured with flame atomic absorption spectrophotometry. All patients were monitored by continuous electrocardiography until they became outpatients or immediately after atrial fibrillation had taken place. Atrial fibrillation occurred in 13 of the 60 patients, corresponding to 21.7%. The zinc and copper concentrations at postoperative days 1 and 3 were significantly different (P < 0.05) between patients with and without atrial fibrillation. The concentrations of zinc following cardiopulmonary bypass recovered more slowly in patients with postoperative atrial fibrillation than in patients without it. Whether or not supplemental zinc could lower the incidence of postoperative atrial fibrillation should be evaluated in future prospective randomized clinical trials.