In a consecutive series of 1150 patients with cerebral aneurysms diagnosed in our department by angiography or autopsy between the years 1977-1990, 1007 patients underwent definitive operative treatment of their aneurysms mainly by early surgery. More than half (55%) were operated on during the first three days after subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH), and more than three quarters (77%) during the first week. The surgical mortality at 30 days was 9%; at one-year follow-up 13% had died. The total management mortality was 22%. The 618 patients presenting in Hunt and Hess Grades I-II had a 4% mortality, and 90% had an independent life at follow-up; 270 Grade III patients had a 19% mortality and 68% were independent. There were 99 patients operated on in Grades IV-V with a 46% mortality and 30% were independent. Age of the patient and size of the aneurysm were strongly related to outcome; however, many of the giant aneurysms were operated on as an emergency because of large intracerebral haematomas. Best results were obtained in the anterior communicating artery (ACA) area; the lowest rate of useful recoveries was in the vertebro-basilar artery (VBA) area (71%). Early surgery did not prevent delayed ischaemic deficits. During the first 72 hours patients in Grades I-III can be operated on safely with good results. The results in Grades IV-V are poor, and we suggest that only cases with large haematomas or considerable hydrocephalus or those improving should be operated on in the first days after SAH, with limited hopes of functional recovery.