This study was designed to determine whether Doppler echocardiographic transmitral flow patterns can predict cardiac mortality in patients with congestive heart failure. Previous studies have indicated that Doppler transmitral flow patterns are related to New York Heart Association functional class and exercise capacity in patients with congestive heart failure. However, the prognostic significance of these flow patterns is not known. We analyzed the relation of transmitral flow patterns and cardiac mortality in 100 consecutive patients (76 men, 24 women; mean [+/- SD] age 60 +/- 11 years) with congestive heart failure symptoms and left ventricular ejection fraction 140 ms, and a restrictive group (58 patients) with E/A > or = 2 or E/A = 1 to 2 and deceleration time < or = 140 ms. Of 100 patients, 26 died during a mean follow-up period of 16 +/- 8 months. The cumulative cardiac mortality rate determined by the Kaplan-Meier method was 14% at 1 year and 35% at 2 years. Cox proportional hazards model analysis revealed that transmitral flow (restrictive vs. nonrestrictive, chi-square 6.99, p = 0.008), patient gender (female vs. male, chi-square 4.59, p = 0.03) and New York Heart Association functional class (IV vs. II, chi-square 3.95, p = 0.05) were significantly related to cardiac mortality in patients with congestive heart failure. Mortality rate in the restrictive group was markedly higher than that in the nonrestrictive group at 1 year (19% vs. 5%, respectively, p < 0.05) and at 2 years (51% vs. 5%, respectively, p < 0.01) by log-rank test. Relative risk for cardiac death was estimated as 4.1 at 1 year and 8.6 at 2 years in the restrictive group compared with the nonrestrictive group. In patients with congestive heart failure, a restrictive transmitral flow pattern, female gender and advanced functional class are predictive of higher cardiac mortality. The restrictive transmitral flow pattern by Doppler echocardiography is the single best clinical predictor for cardiac death in patients with congestive heart failure.