Twenty-seven patients (mean age 57 +/- 7 years) underwent surgery for control of recurrent drug-refractory ventricular tachyarrhythmias (uniform ventricular tachycardia alone in 9 patients, ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation in 15 and ventricular fibrillation alone in 3) within 2 months of acute myocardial infarction. The mean number of major arrhythmic episodes per patient was 15 (range 2 to 200) and of drug failures 4 +/- 2. Left ventricular function was severely impaired in the majority (ejection fraction 29%; range 14% to 47%) and 18 patients (66%) had a left ventricular aneurysm. Endocardial resection guided by a combination of endocardial activation mapping during tachycardia and fragmentation mapping during sinus rhythm was performed in all patients. All electrically abnormal left ventricular endocardium was excised. Eight patients (29.6%) died within 30 days of surgery. Death was not related to age, time of surgery after infarction, ventricular function, bypass time or type of arrhythmia. Patients requiring emergency surgery had a higher early postoperative mortality rate than did those undergoing planned surgery (43% versus 15%). During a follow-up period of 32 +/- 20 months, there have been no arrhythmic deaths and only three patients (16%) have required antiarrhythmic drug therapy. When required in the early weeks after infarction, surgery for ventricular arrhythmias offers a high cure rate at a risk related to the patient's preoperative arrhythmia frequency, which in turn relates to the risk of arrhythmic death.