Myocardial infarct extension, defined as reelevation or reappearance of creatine phosphokinase-MB (CK-MB) 48 hours after the onset of symptoms, was evaluated prospectively in 56 consecutive patients with acute myocardial infarction. Myocardial infarct extension occurred in eight patients (14%). The sensitivity, specificity and predictive accuracy in the diagnosis of myocardial infarct extension were 63%, 85% and 42%, respectively, for recurrent chest pain requiring morphine; 50%, 65% and 19% for recurrent ST-segment elevation on routine 12-lead ECGs; and 88%, 63% and 28% for reelevation of total CK. Three of the eight episodes of extension were clinically silent. Four of eight patients (50%) with extension died, compared with one of 46 patients (2%) without extension (p = 0.0009). CK-MB persisted for 72 hours or longer in 16 patients and identified seven of eight patients who subsequently had infarct extension. We conclude that myocardial infarct extension is an infrequent complication of acute myocardial infarction and is associated with a very high mortality rate. Persistence of CK-MB for 72 hours or more identifies a subgroup of patients at high risk for subsequent infarct extension and death.