The distribution of left ventricular hypertrophy was assessed by M-mode and two-dimensional echocardiography in 89 patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Myocardial thickness was measured in the septum and the free and posterior wall in both the proximal and distal left ventricle. All patients had at least one myocardial region that was hypertrophied. The predominant pattern of hypertrophy was defined as symmetric (31%), asymmetric septal (55%) and distal ventricular (14%). The spectrum of wall thickness measurements between patients with symmetric hypertrophy was wide (1.5 to 4.5 cm) and was not related to age. In patients with asymmetric septal hypertrophy, the distribution of hypertrophy conformed to previously described patterns; hypertrophy was localized to the anterior septum (14%) or the anterior and posterior septum (35%) or involved both the septum and the left ventricular free wall (51%). The patients with distal ventricular hypertrophy had marked papillary muscle thickening, and only 1 of 12 patients could be correctly diagnosed using M-mode echocardiography. The proportion of patients with symmetric and distal ventricular hypertrophy was greater than that reported when patients are selected on the basis of M-mode diagnostic criteria. This reflects the limitations of the M-mode technique in the assessment of left ventricular hypertrophy and suggests that the recognition and understanding of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have been biased by patients with asymmetric septal hypertrophy who previously were most readily identified.