The prognostic importance of ventricular arrhythmias detected during 24 hour ambulatory monitoring was evaluated in 395 patients with and 260 patients without significant coronary artery disease. Ventricular arrhythmias were found to be strongly related to abnormal left ventricular function. A modification of the Lown grading system (ventricular arrhythmia score) was the most useful scheme for classifying ventricular arrhythmias according to prognostic importance. When only noninvasive characteristics were considered, the score contributed independent prognostic information, and the complexity of ventricular arrhythmias as measured by this score was inversely related to survival. However, when invasive measurements were included, the ventricular arrhythmia score did not contribute independent prognostic information. Furthermore, ejection fraction was more useful than the ventricular arrhythmia score in identifying patients at high risk of sudden death.