A series of 198 consecutive patients with acute myocardial infarction were prospectively studied before hospital discharge and during 24.0 +/- 8.6 months of follow-up. A predischarge thrombus was found in 38 (31%) of 124 patients with anterior infarction but in none of 74 patients with inferior infarction (p less than 0.001). Early thrombolytic therapy in 34 patients did not decrease the rate of thrombus occurrence. Acute anterior infarction, ejection fraction less than or equal to 35% and apical dyskinesia or aneurysm (but not akinesia) were significantly related to the appearance of thrombus during hospitalization by stepwise logistic regression analysis. Echocardiographic follow-up of 159 patients for at least 6 months (mean 26.6 +/- 8.4) revealed that thrombus disappeared in 14 (48%) of 29. Disappearance of thrombus was related to predischarge apical akinesia (but not dyskinesia) and to warfarin therapy during the follow-up period. A new thrombus first appeared after hospital discharge in 13 of 130 patients, and in 7 of the 13 it resolved during further follow-up. Thus, 30% (13 of 42) of thrombi in these patients appeared after discharge from the hospital. Three factors were related to occurrence of new thrombi during the follow-up period: deterioration in left ventricular ejection fraction, predischarge ejection fraction less than or equal to 35% and ventricular aneurysm or dyskinesia. Systemic embolism occurred in six patients, all with a predischarge thrombus (p less than 0.001). Mobility of the thrombus was the only variable significantly related to subsequent embolic events (p = 0.001) by logistic regression analysis. Thus, the predischarge echocardiogram identifies patients with thrombus and those at highest risk of embolic events. It can indicate patients who are likely to have thrombus resolution and those at risk of developing a new thrombus after hospital discharge. Follow-up echocardiograms may help in guiding the length of long-term anticoagulant therapy. Four additional patients with a predischarge apical mobile thrombus (not part of the consecutive series) received thrombolytic therapy. In two of the four, lysis of thrombus was achieved without complications, but systemic embolism occurred in the other two, and proved fatal in one.