Serial 2-dimensional echocardiography was performed prospectively in 158 consecutive patients with first acute myocardial infarction (AMI) to determine the incidence of left ventricular (LV) aneurysm formation and the time course required for, and the clinical significance of, onset of LV aneurysm formation. Studies were performed throughout the first 5 days and after 3 months and 1 year. LV aneurysm was defined as an abnormal bulge in the LV contour during both systole and diastole. Eighty-four patients had anterior, 68 posterior and 6 anteroposterior AMI defined echocardiographically. During the study period, LV aneurysm was found in 35 of 158 patients (22%): in anterior AMI in 27, in posterior AMI in 6 and in anteroposterior AMI in 2. No new aneurysm developed after 3 months. Early aneurysm formation, during the first 5 days after AMI, was seen in 15 patients with anterior infarction. Twelve of these 15 (80%) died within 1 year (10 within 3 months), in contrast to 5 (25%) of the remaining 20 patients with LV aneurysm (p less than 0.05). Dyskinesia of the anterior wall in the acute stage usually resulted in aneurysm formation. Thus, LV aneurysm formation is seen in 22% of mostly anterior AMI and occurs within 3 months after AMI. Early aneurysm formation is associated with a high 3-month (67%) and 1-year (80%) mortality rate.