In a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled trial, the effects of the administration of oral L-carnitine (2 g/day) for 28 days were compared in the management of 51 (carnitine group) and 50 (placebo group) patients with suspected acute myocardial infarction. At study entry, the extent of cardiac disease, cardiac enzymes and lipid peroxides were comparable between the groups, although both groups showed an increase in cardiac enzymes and lipid peroxides. At the end of the 28-day treatment period, the mean infarct size assessed by cardiac enzymes showed a significant reduction in the carnitine group compared to placebo. Electrocardiographic assessment of infarct size revealed that the QRS-score was significantly less in the carnitine group compared to placebo (7.4 +/- 1.2 vs 10.7 +/- 2.0), while serum aspartate transaminase and lipid peroxides showed significant reduction in the carnitine group. Lactate dehydrogenase measured on the sixth or seventh day following infarction showed a smaller rise in the carnitine group compared to placebo. Angina pectoris (17.6 vs 36.0%), New York Heart Association class III and IV heart failure plus left ventricular enlargement (23.4 vs 36.0%) and total arrhythmias (13.7 vs 28.0%) were significantly less in the carnitine group compared to placebo. Total cardiac events including cardiac deaths and nonfatal infarction were 15.6% in the carnitine group vs 26.0% in the placebo group. It is possible that L-carnitine supplementation in patients with suspected acute myocardial infarction may be protective against cardiac necrosis and complications during the first 28 days.