Predictors of perioperative complications, including cardiac death, ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation, and heart failure or myocardial infarction, were assessed in an initial study of 100 patients aged 65 years or older scheduled for elective abdominal or noncardiac thoracic surgery. Preoperative history, results of physical examination, chest roentgenogram, electrocardiogram, laboratory data, Dripps (American Society of Anesthesiologists) class, and Goldman cardiac risk index were compared with rest and exercise radionuclide ventriculograms. Thirteen patients had perioperative cardiac complications, and 6 died. Multivariate analysis showed that an inability to do 2 minutes of bicycle exercise in the supine position to raise the heart rate above 99 beats/min (sensitivity 85%, specificity 64%) gave predictive information not available from clinical or radionuclide data. On prospective testing involving 55 additional geriatric patients, inability to exercise was the only independent predictor of perioperative complications (p < 0.05). Data from rest and exercise radionuclide ventriculography added little information for predicting perioperative cardiac risk.