A total of 1280 80-year-old men were invited to a medical examination to study common risk indicators for cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the elderly. From the pool of 811 responders (63.3%), all 122 individuals who fulfilled our inclusion criteria were assigned to one of four groups: (1) no CVD, non-smokers; (2) no CVD, smokers; (3) CVD, smokers; (4) CVD, non-smokers. A telephone interview with 75 non-responders suggested that this group contained more institutionalized subjects, but otherwise did not differ from the group of participants. Subjects with CVD had higher levels of plasma cholesterol and LDL cholesterol than those without CVD, whereas plasma HDL cholesterol and plasma triglyceride concentrations did not differ between the groups; thus the LDL/HDL ratio was higher in the CVD group. Lipoprotein concentrations did not differ between smokers and non-smokers. However, the mean cholesterol levels were low (5.19 +/- 1.01 mmol l-1), suggesting selective mortality. No differences between the groups were found with regard to Lp(a). The mean blood pressure for the whole group was 149/79 mmHg, and there were no differences between subgroups. Our study suggests that mechanisms such as selective mortality modify the risk factor pattern in the elderly. In 80-year-old individuals, elevated LDL cholesterol levels can still be identified as a risk indicator for CVD, whereas there does not appear to be any association between CVD or low HDL levels or elevated blood pressure in this age group.