This study assesses the incidence of sudden death and classifies the causes of death following radiofrequency ablation of the atrioventricular (AV) junction. We studied 220 patients with paroxysmal (n = 105) or chronic (n = 115) atrial fibrillation (AF) and a mean age of 64 +/- 12 years. These patients were followed 31 +/- 15 months after radiofrequency ablation of the AV junction and pacemaker implantation. In 86 patients, structural heart disease was identified before the procedure. All patients were traced via the Swedish National Civic Registry and Cause of Death Registry. The cause-of-death was classified according to data from death certificates, autopsy protocols, and medical records. Thirty-one patients (mean age 69 +/- 11 years, 16 men) died 15 +/- 15 months (range 0.2 to 60) after the procedure. There were 6 sudden unexplained deaths, 14 cardiovascular deaths, and 11 deaths from noncardiovascular causes. Eleven patients, all with structural heart disease, died suddenly out of hospital 16 +/- 16 months (range 0.2 to 42) after the procedure. In 6 of these there was no obvious cause of death. Three of these 6 patients underwent autopsy, which showed extensive coronary artery disease (n = 1), severe heart failure (n = 1) and cardiac hypertrophy and dilation (n = 1). The remaining 3 all had depressed left ventricular systolic function and a history of congestive heart failure. Five of the patients who died suddenly from cardiovascular causes had autopsies that revealed acute myocardial infarction (n = 4) and massive pulmonary embolism (n = 1).