Boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) rarely have clinical evidence of myocardial dysfunction during life. Nevertheless, congestive heart failure is a frequent terminal event and autopsy invariably shows dystrophic myocardial involvement. Little is known regarding the progression of heart functional abnormalities in boys with DMD from birth to death. Therefore we have examined the hearts of 18 DMD boys aged 4 to 15 years with the following non-invasive methods: cardiovascular physical examination, electrocardiography, chest x-ray, serum enzymes, and echocardiography. Control subjects were 25 normal boys matched to their DMD counterparts by age and by body surface area. The dystrophic patients were divided into early (N = 9) and late (N = 9) DMD according to manual muscle testing of skeletal muscles. In early DMD, six of 23 cardiac indices differed from control boys; in the late stage, an additional five indices became abnormal. Early DMD was characterized by these abnormalities: tachycardia, large ECG R/S ratio in V1, augmented q wave voltages in Leads I, II, and V5 of the ECG, diminished contractile excursion of the left venticular posterior wall (LVPW) and interventricular septum, and decreased rate of relaxation of the LVPW. In late DMD additional cardiac abnormalities appeared: enlarged heart volume by x-ray, reduced cardiac ejection fraction, diminished change in left ventricular diameter from diastole to systole, reduced maximal systolic endocardial velocity, and decreased rate of circumferential fiber shortening as detected in the echocardiogram. Most of the cardiac abnormalities were revealed only by echocardiography, which is thus shown to be a sensitive method for monitoring the progression of cardiac dystrophy during the life span of the DMD child.