Radionuclide ejection fraction (EF) and ventricular wall motion were determined in 73 patients before 82 carotid operations (79 carotid endarterectomies [CEAs] and three cervical carotid-subclavian bypasses). The EF was 55% +/- 13%, ranging from 21% to 77%. Thirty-three percent (24/73) had low EF (less than or equal to 50%), and 44% (28/63) had myocardial wall motion abnormalities. Perioperative cardiac complications, including myocardial infarction (MI), new ventricular arrhythmia, or severe congestive heart failure, were present after 12.2% (10/82) of the operations. Perioperative MI was present in 4.9% (4/82); in 50% of these it was fatal. Perioperative (30-day) stroke was present in 2.5% (2/79) of those undergoing CEA. Life table analysis revealed overall survival was lower in patients with EF of 35% or less vs those with EF over 35% during follow-up (522 +/- 280 days). Perioperative cardiac complications were more frequent with EF of 35% or less, occurring in 43% (3/7) vs 9% (7/75) of cases with EF over 35%. There was no statistical difference in perioperative mortality, but cumulative mortality differed, being 57% (4/7) in those with EF of 35% or less vs 11% (7/66) in patients with EF over 35%. Patients with EF of 35% or less are at increased risk for perioperative cardiac complications and reduced overall survival following carotid surgery.