Patients with acute myocardial infarction who were treated with accelerated tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) (given over a period of 1 1/2 hours rather than the conventional 3 hours, and with two thirds of the dose given in the first 30 minutes) had a 30-day mortality that was 15 percent lower than that of patients treated with streptokinase in the Global Utilization of Streptokinase and Tissue Plasminogen Activator for Occluded Coronary Arteries (GUSTO) study. This was equivalent to an absolute decrease of 1 percent in 30-day mortality. We sought to assess whether the use of t-PA, as compared with streptokinase, is cost effective. Our primary, or base-case, analysis of cost effectiveness used data from the GUSTO study and life expectancy projected on the basis of the records of survivors of myocardial infarction in the Duke Cardiovascular Disease Database. In the primary analysis, we assumed that there were no additional treatment costs due to the use of t-PA after the first year and that the comparative survival benefit of t-PA was still evident one year after enrollment. One year after enrollment, patients who received t-PA had both higher costs ($2,845) and a higher survival rate (an increase of 1.1 percent, or 11 per 1000 patients treated) than streptokinase-treated patients. On the basis of the projected life expectancy of each treatment group, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio--with both future costs and benefits discounted at 5 percent per year--was $32,678 per year of life saved. The use of t-PA was least cost effective in younger patients and most cost effective in older patients. At all ages, the use of t-PA in patients with anterior infarctions yielded more favorable cost-effectiveness values. In our secondary analyses, the cost-effectiveness values were most sensitive to a lowering of the projected long-term survival benefits of t-PA and to moderate or greater increases in the projected medical costs for patients in the t-PA group after the first year. In contrast, our results were not sensitive to even very unfavorable assumptions about the additional costs associated with the higher rate of disabling stroke that was noted in patients treated with t-PA in the GUSTO study. The cost effectiveness of treatment with accelerated t-PA rather than streptokinase compares favorably with that of other therapies whose added medical benefit for dollars spent is judged by society to be worthwhile.