The objective of this study was to characterize the effect of intravenous hypertonic sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) administration in patients with moderate-to-severe cyclic antidepressant (CA) overdose. We reviewed charts of all 91 patients given the diagnosis of CA overdose in the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Emergency Medicine Center (EMC), who either died in the EMC or were admitted to the medical intensive care unit (MICU), and who received NaHCO3 in the EMC between 1980 and 1988. Twenty-four other patients with the same EMC diagnosis were admitted to the MICU during this period but did not receive NaHCO3. The response of blood pressure, electrocardiographic parameters, and mental status to serum alkalinization with NaHCO3 were evaluated. Major morbidity and mortality were recorded for all patients. Hypotension was corrected within 1 hour in 20 of 21 (96%) patients, QRS prolongation corrected in 39 of 49 (80%), and mental status improved in 40 of 85 (47%). There was one death, in a patient who was moribund on arrival to the EMC. No complications were attributable to the administration of NaHCO3. NaHCO3 seems to improve hypotension and normalize QRS duration rapidly in most patients treated, and improve mental status changes in almost one half. Serum alkalinization with NaHCO3, in conjunction with appropriate supportive care, seems to limit major morbidity and mortality effectively in patients with serious CA overdose.