To determine factors that influence survival and recovery of ventricular function in patients undergoing aortic valve replacement in the current surgical era, baseline risk factors related to outcome were analyzed in 1,012 consecutive patients undergoing aortic valve replacement between 1983 and 1990. Forty-two percent of patients underwent concomitant coronary bypass. Observed survival probabilities (expressed as 30-day/5-year) were 0.97/0.81 overall, 0.99/0.89 for patients aged less than 70 years, and 0.95/0.74 for patients aged 70 years or greater. Advanced age (p < 0.0001), decreased ejection fraction (p < 0.0001), extent of coronary disease (p < 0.006), smaller prosthetic valve (p < 0.03), and advanced New York Heart Association class (p < 0.04) were incremental risk factors for mortality. In patients with preoperative ventricular dysfunction (ejection fraction < or = 0.45), ejection fraction measured 1.4 years after aortic valve replacement improved in 72% and the mean increment in ejection fraction was 0.175 (95% confidence interval, 0.154 to 0.195). The increment in ejection fraction was greater in female patients than in male patients (p < 0.02) and greater in patients without than with coronary disease (p < 0.02). Female sex (p < 0.02) and lesser extent of coronary disease (p < 0.05) were independent predictors of change in ejection fraction. In all patients, early improvement in ejection fraction conveyed an independent subsequent survival benefit (p < 0.0001). The results of aortic valve replacement in the current era are excellent, and the majority of patients with ventricular dysfunction demonstrate significant improvement. Early improvement in ejection fraction, influenced by coexistent coronary artery disease and sex-associated factors, importantly affects subsequent survival.