Direct percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) has emerged as effective reperfusion therapy for acute myocardial infarction; however, few data exist on its use in octogenarians. Thrombolytic therapy in this age group has reduced early mortality from approximately 30% to 20%, but is associated with an increased risk of stroke and major hemorrhage. We analyzed the acute and long-term results of direct PTCA performed on patients aged > or = 80 years at our institution between 1980 and 1993. The study group consisted of 55 patients (mean patient age 83.3 +/- 2.3 years). Infarcts were anterior in 27 patients (49%). Cardiogenic shock was present in 6 patients (11%). The mean time to reperfusion was 4.3 +/- 2.8 hours. Direct PTCA was successful in 53 patients (96%). There were no emergent bypass operations. In-hospital death occurred in 9 patients (16%), including 4 of 6 (67%) presenting in cardiogenic shock and 5 of 49 (10%) who were hemodynamically stable on presentation. Repeat PTCA for recurrent ischemia was performed in 6 patients (11%). There were no strokes during hospitalization. Bleeding complications requiring blood transfusion were present in 4 patients (7%). Thirty-day mortality was 16% and 1-year actuarial survival was 67%. Direct PTCA in patients aged > or = 80 years can be performed safely with a high procedural success rate. The clinical outcome with PTCA in this high risk subset of patients compares favorably with that reported previously for both thrombolytic and medical therapy.