We compared the efficacy of immediate coronary angioplasty after acute myocardial infarction with that of elective angioplasty at 7 to 10 days in patients treated initially with intravenous tissue plasminogen activator. The plasminogen activator (150 mg) was administered 2.95 +/- 1.1 hours after the onset of symptoms, to 386 patients with acute myocardial infarction. Ninety minutes later, patency of the coronary artery serving the area of the infarct was demonstrated by coronary angiography in 288 patients (75 percent). Bleeding problems were frequently encountered, as evidenced by an average drop in hematocrit of 11.7 +/- 6.5 points from base line to nadir and by a need for transfusion not related to bypass surgery in 70 patients (18 percent). After successful thrombolysis, 197 patients with a patent but severely stenotic vessel suitable for angioplasty were randomly assigned to immediate angioplasty (n = 99) or, if indicated 7 to 10 days after infarction, to deferred (elective) angioplasty (n = 98). The incidence of reocclusion was similar in the two groups: 11 percent in the group assigned to immediate angioplasty and 13 percent in the group assigned to elective angioplasty. Neither group had a significant improvement in global left ventricular function, and regional wall motion in the infarct zone improved to a similar extent in the two groups. In the elective-angioplasty group, the rate of crossover to emergency angioplasty for recurrent ischemia was 16 percent (whereas 5 percent of the immediate-angioplasty group required emergency repeated angioplasty; P = 0.01). In 14 percent of the patients in the elective group, the stenosis was substantially reduced by the time of the seven-day follow-up angiography, obviating the need for angioplasty. We conclude that in patients with initially successful thrombolysis and suitable coronary-artery anatomy, immediate angioplasty offers no clear advantage over delayed elective angioplasty.