In this prospective study we evaluated the value of the main diagnostic criteria for postinfarction subacute rupture of the ventricular free wall. Two-dimensional echocardiograms and recordings of right atrial pressure and waveform were immediately obtained in every patient exhibiting rapid clinical and/or hemodynamic compromise in the acute infarction setting. The same protocol was applied to patients referred from other hospitals for suspected myocardial rupture. In 28 cases a subacute free wall rupture was identified. In most of the patients the diagnosis was based on the demonstration of hemopericardium and cardiac tamponade by echocardiography, cardiac catheterization and, occasionally, by pericardiocentesis. In 2 instances, the identification of intrapericardial echo densities suggesting clots, in the absence of cardiac tamponade, allowed a diagnosis of subacute rupture. Direct, but indistinct visualization of myocardial rupture was obtained in 4 cases. Among the 28 patients with this complication, 4 died while awaiting surgery and 24 underwent surgical repair (mortality rate 33%). Long-term outcome of survivors was favorable. Various myocardial lesions underlie postinfarction subacute free wall rupture. Clinical presentation varied widely. The diagnosis was based, usually but not always, on the association of hemopericardium and signs of cardiac tamponade. An organized approach to management of this complication of acute myocardial infarction was suggested.