The present non-intervention screening study was undertaken to explore the relationships between pre-existing low total cholesterol and all-cause mortality. Eleven thousand, five hundred and sixty-three patients with coronary heart disease who attended a screening visit but were not included in the Bezafibrate Infarction Prevention study were followed-up for a mean of 3.3 years after determination of baseline total cholesterol. Five hundred and ninety-five (5%) of this largely unselected population who had total cholesterol levels < or = 160 mg.dl-1 formed the study population. The remaining 10968 patients acted as controls. The relative risk of all-cause mortality among patients with low cholesterol compared to others was 1.49 (95% CI: 1.16-1.91). The relative risk of non-cardiac death was 2.27 times higher in the low cholesterol group than in the controls (95% CI: 1.49-3.45), whereas the risk of cardiac death was the same in both groups (relative risk 1.09; 95% CI: 0.76-1.56). The most frequent cause of non-cardiac death associated with low total cholesterol was cancer. These results in patients with coronary heart disease add weight to previous studies associating low total cholesterol with an increased risk of non-cardiac death. However, a longer follow-up of this cohort of patients is necessary in order to clarify this association.