Since atherosclerotic heart disease results in more than half of the perioperative deaths that follow abdominal aortic surgery, a prospective protocol was designed for preoperative evaluation and intraoperative hemodynamic monitoring. Twenty men who were prepared to undergo elective operation for aortoiliac occlusive disease (12 patients) and abdominal aortic aneurysm (eight patients) were evaluated with a cardiac scan and right heart catheterization. The night prior to operation, each patient received volume loading with crystalloid based upon ventricular performance curves. At the time of the operation, all patients were anesthetized with narcotics and nitrous oxide, and hemodynamic parameters were recorded throughout the operation. Aortic crossclamping resulted in a marked depression in CI in all patients. CI remained depressed P less than 0.05 after unclamping in the majority of patients. There were two perioperative deaths, both from myocardial infarction or failure. Both patients had ejection fractions less than 30% and initial CIs less than 2 L/M2, while the survivors' mean ejection fraction was 63% +/- 1 and their mean CI was 3.2 L/M2 +/- 0.6. We conclude that preoperative evaluation of ejection fraction can select those patients at a high risk of cardiac death from abdominal aortic operation. These patients should receive intensive preoperative monitoring with enhancement of ventricular performance.