Cardiac death consequent to acute vessel closure after coronary angioplasty occurred in 13 of 294 closures from 8,207 consecutive procedures performed at two centers since 1981 (0.16% cardiac mortality rate). To determine the predictors of cardiac death after acute coronary closure, 50 clinical, angiographic and procedural variables were analyzed by an observer unaware of the clinical outcome for each of the 13 patients who died and also 100 patients randomly chosen, in whom vessel closure after angioplasty did not result in death during hospitalization. Univariate analysis found female gender (p less than 0.0001), collateral channels from the vessel dilated (p less than 0.0001), use of balloon counterpulsation (p less than 0.0002), pre- and postprocedural hypotension (p = 0.0003 and p = 0.003, respectively), jeopardy score greater than or equal to 2.5 (p = 0.003), left ventricular hypertrophy (p = 0.013), hypertension (p = 0.02), diabetes (p = 0.02) and multivessel disease (p = 0.03) to be predictive of death. Multivariate analysis found collateral vessels, female gender and multivessel disease to be independent predictors of death. Thus, cardiac death after elective coronary angioplasty is very rare in experienced centers and occurs most often in women with a large amount of potentially ischemic myocardium. Hypotension often precedes the fatal closure event. Close attention to the amount of potentially ischemic myocardium and to the fluid volume status of these patients would seem to be especially warranted.