A total of 51 patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) were followed for at least 3 years (mean follow-up period 6.5 years) by serial M-mode and two-dimensional echocardiography. An increase of the left ventricular diastolic dimension (LVDd) to > or = 55 mm with a decrease in the left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) to < 55% was observed in eight (15.7%) patients (progressive disease group). In five of these eight patients, the LVDd was > or = 60 mm and the LVEF was < 40%. Ventricular enlargement was closely related to mortality and death due to congestive heart failure occurred in three of these patients. No deaths occurred among the 37 patients without significant progression of ventricular enlargement (nonprogressive group). The annual changes of LVEF and LVDd in the progressive disease group were larger than in the nonprogressive group (LVEF -0.18 +/- 1.45 vs. -2.46 +/- 1.47 %/year; LVDd 0.22 +/- 0.81 vs. 1.43 +/- 0.77 mm/year). An increment in LVDs occurred earlier than the enlargement of the LVDd. Therefore, close attention to the LVDs seems to be important to detect early left ventricular morphological changes in HCM. In summary, this study indicates that HCM patients include a subgroup with symptoms resembling dilated cardiomyopathy, in whom the left ventricle enlarges with hypofunction and in whom there is high mortality due to congestive heart failure.