To determine the relative merits of primary percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PICA) and intravenous thrombolytic therapy for acute myocardial infarction, 12 tertiary care hospitals entered patients who had ≥30 minutes of chest pain and were admitted to a cardiac intensive care unit within 12 hours of symptom onset into a prospective registry. Of 1,170 such patients, 118 (10%) underwent primary PTCA and 230 (19%) received intravenous thrombolytic therapy within 6 hours of registry hospital admission (144 at the registry hospital and 86 prior to arrival at the registry hospital). Baseline demographic characteristics of PTCA and thrombolytic subgroups were remarkably similar. The interval from initial evaluation at the registry hospital to treatment was shorter with intravenous thrombolytic therapy than with primary PTCA (64 vs 104 minutes, p < 0.001), as was the interval from pain onset to treatment (184 vs 252 minutes, p < 0.001). Among the 230 thrombolytic patients, coronary arteriography and PTCA were performed within the first 24 hours in 44% and 18%, respectively, and during the entire hospitalization in 90% and 49%, respectively. During hospitalization, blood was transfused in 16% of the 230 thrombolytic patients versus 5.9% of the 118 PTCA patients (p < 0.001). Otherwise, adverse events during the initial hospitalization were similar in PTCA and thrombolytic groups. Survival at 1-year follow-up was 88% in the PTCA group and 91% in the thrombolytic group (p = NS), and survival free of reinfarction was 85% and 88%, respectively (p = NS). Multivariable analysis, adjusting for baseline characteristics, found no evidence that use of PTCA rather than thrombolytic therapy significantly impacted survival or survival free of reinfarction at 1 year. These observational registry data suggest that patients undergoing primary PTCA for acute myocardial infarction have similar demographic characteristics and similar outcome as patients receiving intravenous thrombolytic therapy. © 1994.