Angiographic evidence of coronary artery disease was present in 16,002 patients in the Coronary Artery Surgery Study (CASS) registry. Of these patients, 551 had a history of cardiac arrest before enrollment angiography. Cardiac arrest was a complication of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) in 372 patients (68%). Electrocardiographic documentation of the responsible rhythm was available in 283 patients. Ventricular fibrillation (VF) was present in 112 (60%), ventricular tachycardia (VT) in 41 (22%) and both VT and VF in 26 (14%) patients. Stepwise linear discriminant analysis comparing the 551 cardiac arrest patients with the other 15,451 patients selected left ventricular wall motion score (F = 265), use of digitalis (F = 71), impaired blood supply to any segment (F = 16) and particularly to the anterior wall (F = 11) as discriminating variables associated with cardiac arrest. Patients with cardiac arrest occurring as a complication of AMI were younger (F = 12), had greater impairment of coronary blood supply (F = 7) and were more likely to be on a cholesterol-lowering diet (F = 16) than were patients with arrest remote from infarction. Comparison of patients with VT versus those with VF showed a positive association of VT with age (F = 8), a trend toward worse left ventricular function and presence of a left ventricular aneurysm, but no difference in severity and collateralization of coronary artery disease. It is concluded that cardiac arrest is related to the extent of myocardial damage. Cardiac arrest in the context of AMI is associated with somewhat more extensive distal coronary disease than cardiac arrest remote from AMI, which is more highly correlated with prior infarction and more clinically manifest heart failure. VF was less frequently associated with chronic myocardial scar and VT, raising the possibility that other factors such as ischemia could be contributory.