The purpose of this study was to investigate the serial changes and prognostic value of a nongeometric Doppler-derived index of myocardial function that combines systolic and diastolic time intervals of the left ventricle in acute myocardial infarction (AMI). The Doppler index was measured in 60 consecutive patients with AMI and in 30 patients admitted to hospital with suspected but disproved AMI who served as controls. The patients were studied at days 1, 5, 90, and 360 after arrival in the coronary care unit. The index was defined as the sum of isovolumetric contraction time, and isovolumetric relaxation time divided by ejection time was measured from mitral inflow and left ventricular outflow Doppler velocity profiles. The index was significantly higher in patients with AMI than in control subjects at days 1 and 360 (day 1, 0.58 +/- 0.09 vs 0.41 +/- 0.08, p <0.0001; day 360, 0.50 +/- 0.09 vs 0.39 +/- 0.07, p <0.01, respectively). The index decreased significantly in patients with AMI during follow-up (p <0.01). The index was significantly higher in patients who developed congestive heart failure or died compared with survivors who were free of congestive heart failure (day 1, 0.63 +/- 0.10 vs 0.53 +/- 0.10, p <0.01; day 360, 0.56 +/- 0.08 vs 0.48 +/- 0.10, p <0.01, respectively). During 20.2 +/- 8.5 months' follow-up, 10 patients died of cardiac causes and 13 developed congestive heart failure. Univariate analyses demonstrated that the Doppler index > or =0.60 (chi-square 8.3, p <0.0001), deceleration time < or =140 ms (chi-square 8.5, p <0.0001), ejection fraction < or =0.40% (chi-square 3.3, p <0.005), anterior wall AMI (chi-square 3.2, p <0.01), and age (chi-square 1.06/ year increase, p <0.01) were significant predictors of outcome. Multivariate stepwise analysis showed that the index < or =0.60 (chi-square 3.4, p <0.05), deceleration time < or =140 ms (chi-square 4.2, p <0.02), and age (chi-square 1.06/year increase, p <0.02) were independent predictors of outcome. The Doppler index reflects severity of left ventricular function and has incremental prognostic value in patients with AMI.