Emergency revascularization procedures for patients with acute stroke are controversial. Thirty-four patients with acute internal carotid artery occlusion documented at the time of emergency endarterectomy were analyzed. Before operation, all these patients had profound neurological deficits including hemiplegia and aphasia. There was a 94% success rate in restoring patency. In follow-up, nine patients (26.5%) had a normal neurological exam, four (11.8%) had a minimal deficit, 10 (29.4%) had a moderate hemiparesis, which was improved over their preoperative deficit, 4 (11.8%) remained hemiplegic, and seven (20.6%) died. The natural history of patients with acute carotid occlusion and profound neurological deficits is dismal. In comparison, 13 patients (38%) made a dramatic recovery. The surgical mortality rate compares favorably with the natural history. Good collateral flow was a good prognostic factor, while a simultaneous middle cerebral artery embolus was associated with a poorer prognosis. An emergency carotid endarterectomy may be indicated in selected patients with acute internal carotid artery occlusion with profound neurological deficits. Full preoperative angiography may identify those patients who would benefit from surgical intervention and reduce the operative mortality rate.