Patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and contraindication to thrombolysis have a high mortality and morbidity with conventional medical treatment. Among 226 consecutive patients hospitalized within 6 hours of the onset of Q-wave AMI, 45 (20%) had contraindications to thrombolysis. All were treated by emergent primary angioplasty. Mean age of the 45 patients was 60 +/- 11 years and 8 (18%) were > or = 70 years old; 17 (38%) had multivessel disease and 5 (11%) presented with cardiogenic shock. Successful angioplasty was achieved in 42 of the 45 patients (93%) 52 +/- 27 minutes after admission and 238 +/- 100 minutes after the onset of pain. Overall in-hospital mortality was 9% (4 of 45). Neither major bleeding nor stroke occurred. There was 1 case of early symptomatic reocclusion, treated with emergent repeat angioplasty without reinfarction. Predischarge angiography in 33 patients showed only 1 silent reocclusion (3%). Ejection fraction at discharge was 46 +/- 13%. Repeat catheterization at 6 months in 19 patients showed 4 restenoses (21%) and 4 reocclusions (21%) of the infarct-related artery. There were 3 late deaths (2 noncardiac), which gave survival rates of 87 and 85% at 1 and 3 years, respectively, and event-free survival rates of 71 and 69% including in-hospital deaths. There were no cases of late reinfarction. Consequently, in this series, primary coronary angioplasty proved safe and highly effective in rapidly restoring sustained infarct-vessel patency during AMI, and led to a greater improvement in early and late outcomes than that reported in the literature for medically treated subjects in this high-risk subset for which thrombolytic therapy is contraindicated.