Serial electrocardiographic changes in necropsy-proven idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy are evaluated and a method of predicting heart weight using QRS amplitudes is described. In 34 patients with multiple electrocardiograms (mean 3/patient) progressive prolongation of PR interval (0.18 +/- 0.03 to 0.21 +/- 0.03, p less than 0.001) and QRS duration (0.10 +/- 0.02 to 0.13 +/- 0.03, p less than 0.0001) was noted. Progressive conduction abnormalities were common (82%). QTc interval and QRS- and T-wave axes did not change. In 50 patients with electrocardiograms within 60 days of death, total 12-lead QRS and V1 through V6 QRS amplitude correlated better with heart weight (r = 0.51, p less than 0.0001 and r = 0.55, p less than 0.0001) than the Estes-Romhilt score did. The mean total 12-lead QRS amplitude was 138 mm with a mean of 106 for V1 through V6. In 31 patients cardiac mass index was calculated and showed significant correlation with 12-lead and V1 through V6 QRS amplitudes (r = 0.68, p less than 0.0001 and r = 0.75, p less than 0.0001, respectively). The QRS amplitudes remained constant during the illness. By using total 12-lead QRS or frontal plane QRS amplitude, heart weight can be predicted as early as 2 years before death. Use of body surface area and QRS amplitude criteria increases the accuracy of heart weight prediction. Thus, progressive electrocardiographic changes are common in patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy and QRS amplitude criteria are more accurate in the prediction of left ventricular hypertrophy than standard criteria.