The case records of 59 patients with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) who presented between 1984 and 1997 were studied retrospectively. Included in the study were infants born with CDH who required respiratory support within the first 6 h of life. Twenty-three were excluded from the study for various reasons; 36 were enrolled in the study; the male-to-female ratio was 18:18. Twenty-nine hernias were left-sided and 7 were right-sided. All patients were ventilated using conventional techniques. Arterial blood gases were measured on average 1.76 h following admission and the initial period of resuscitation (range 1-4 h). Three formulae were applied in an attempt to predict outcome: ventilation index against PCO2, alveolar-arterial oxygen gradient, and a newly derived formula from this institution (Red Cross formula) that comprises respiratory rate x PCO2 x FiO2 x mean airway pressure/PaO2 x 6000. Seventeen patients (47.2%) survived and 19 died (52.8%); 21 became stable enough to undergo surgery. The average time from presentation until surgery was 1.98 days (range 6 h to 4 days). The Red Cross formula, with a 100% predictive value for mortality, 85% predictive value for survival, and an overall predictive value of 91.6%, appeared to be superior to the other formulae studied. The availability of a highly accurate predictive formula may facilitate management of this frequently lethal disease.