The cardiac abnormalities that complicate chronic renal failure and renal replacement therapy are not well characterized in young people. These abnormalities are becoming more important because successful renal transplantation has resulted in children with end-stage renal failure living longer. Echocardiographic abnormalities of cardiac function and structure were studied in children and young adults (< 27 years old) with chronic renal failure (CRF, N = 32), end-stage renal failure treated with chronic peritoneal dialysis (CPD, N = 10) or renal transplantation (N = 30) or controls (N = 60). Left ventricular mass indexed for height (LVM/Ht and LVM/Ht2.7) and body surface area (LVM/SA), fractional shortening, measurement of left ventricular diastolic function (peak E and A wave velocities and the EA ratio) and structural (such as valvular) abnormalities were determined by echocardiography. The median (and range) of LVM/Ht in the groups were control 51.8 (23.1 to 119.8), CRF 60.2 (22.2 to 135.8), CPD 80.2 (14.5 to 100.9) and transplant group 97.8 (51.2 to 182.1) g/m. The increases in LVM/Ht, LVM/Ht2.7 and LVM/SA in the transplant group were significant (P < 0.01). The CRF group had significantly increased LVM/Ht2.7 and LVM/SA (P < 0.01). Systolic function was not significantly different between the groups. A significant correlation between creatinine and LVM indexed for height was found in the CRF group. Systolic or diastolic blood pressure could not be correlated with LVM indices in the transplant group. Changes in diastolic function were found (increased peak A wave velocity and decreased E/A ratios in the CRF and CPD groups, and increased peak E wave velocity in the transplant group). The study demonstrated that left ventricular hypertrophy is a frequent and often severe finding in children with chronic renal failure and those treated with renal replacement therapy. Factors other than hypertension and anaemia are important, and evidence was found for a link between serum creatinine and increased left ventricular mass prior to end-stage renal failure.