Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a primary myocardial disease in which symptoms may frequently result from impaired left ventricular relaxation, filling and compliance. In the present investigation, Doppler echocardiography was utilized to measure transmitral flow velocity and thereby assess left ventricular diastolic performance noninvasively in a group of 111 patients representative of the broad clinical spectrum of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, all Doppler indexes of diastolic relaxation and filling differed significantly (p less than 0.001) from those obtained in 86 control subjects without heart disease, namely, prolongation of isovolumic relaxation (94 +/- 24 versus 78 +/- 12 ms) and of the early diastolic peak of flow velocity (244 +/- 55 versus 220 +/- 28 ms), as well as slower deceleration (3.4 +/- 1.4 versus 4.9 +/- 1.3 m/s2) and reduced maximal flow velocity in early diastole (0.5 +/- 0.2 versus 0.6 +/- 0.1 m/s). As an apparent compensation for impaired relaxation and early diastolic filling, the atrial contribution to left ventricular filling was increased, as shown by increased late diastolic flow velocity (0.4 +/- 0.3 versus 0.3 +/- 0.1 m/s) and reduced ratio of maximal flow velocity in early diastole to that in late diastole (1.4 +/- 0.8 versus 2.1 +/- 0.9). The vast majority of patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (91 [82%] of 111) showed evidence of impaired left ventricular diastolic performance, as assessed from the Doppler waveform. Abnormal Doppler diastolic indexes were identified with similar frequency in patients with (78%) or without (83%) left ventricular outflow obstruction, as well as in patients with (84%) or without (80%) cardiac symptoms. However, patients with nonobstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy showed more severe alterations in the Doppler indexes of diastolic function than did patients with obstruction. Thus, abnormal diastolic performance as assessed by Doppler echocardiography was apparent in the vast majority of the study patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, independent of the presence or absence of cardiac symptoms or a subaortic pressure gradient. The high frequency with which diastolic abnormalities are identified in asymptomatic patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy suggests that impaired diastolic performance may be present at a time in the natural history of the disease when functional limitation is not yet evident.