A patient with severe angina will often be eligible for either angioplasty (PTCA) or bypass surgery (CABG). Results from eight published randomised trials have been combined in a collaborative meta-analysis of 3371 patients (1661 CABG, 1710 PTCA) with a mean follow-up of 2.7 years. The total deaths in the CABG and PTCA groups were 73 and 79, respectively, with a relative risk (RR) of 1.08 (95% CI 0.79-1.50). The combined endpoint of cardiac death and non-fatal myocardial infarction occurred in 169 PTCA patients and 154 CABG patients (RR 1.10 [0.89-1.37]). Amongst patients randomised to PTCA 17.8% required additional CABG within a year, while in subsequent years the need for additional CABG was around 2% per annum. The rate of additional non-randomised interventions (PTCA and/or CABG) in the first year of follow-up was 33.7% and 3.3% in patients randomised to PTCA and CABG, respectively. The prevalence of angina after one year was considerably higher in the PTCA group (RR 1.56 [1.30-1.88]) but at 3 years this difference had attenuated (RR 1.22 [0.99-1.54]). Overall there was substantial similarity in outcome across the trials. Separate analyses for the 732 single-vessel and 2639 multivessel disease patients were largely compatible, though the rates of mortality, additional intervention, and prevalent angina were slightly lower in single vessel disease. The combined evidence comparing PTCA with CABG shows no difference in prognosis between these two initial revascularisation strategies. However, the treatments differ markedly in the subsequent requirement for additional revascularisation procedures and in the relief of angina. These results will influence the choice of revascularisation procedure in future patients with angina.