OBJECTIVE: In some respects, outcome reporting in valvular surgery has been hampered by focusing on specific populations, reluctance to publish high-risk subgroups, and possibly skewed or inadequate samples. The goal of this study was to evaluate risk factors for operative mortality comprehensively across the entire spectrum of cardiac valvular procedures over the past decade. METHODS: All 409,904 valve procedures in the Society of Thoracic Surgeons database performed between 1994 and 2003 were assessed, and Society of Thoracic Surgeons preoperative and operative variables were related to operative mortality by using a multivariable logistic regression model. Data were greater than 95% complete, and the relative importance of relevant risk factors was determined by ranking odds ratios. The analysis had a high predictive power, with a C statistic of 0.735. RESULTS: In the model, 19 variables independently influenced operative mortality (all P < .01). The most significant was nonelective (acute) presentation (odds ratios, 2.11), followed by advanced age (odds ratios, 1.88), reoperation (odds ratios, 1.61), endocarditis (odds ratios, 1.59), and coronary disease (odds ratios, 1.58). Generally, valve replacement was associated with higher mortality than repair (odds ratios, 1.52). Overall, female gender was very important (odds ratios, 1.37), and earlier year of operation increased risk (odds ratios, 1.34), implying improving outcomes over time. Although any single comorbidity, on average, was only moderately contributory (odds ratios, 1.19), specific comorbidities, such as renal failure, or multiple comorbidities in a given patient could be very significant. Aortic root reconstruction carried the highest risk (odds ratios, 2.78), followed by tricuspid valve surgery (odds ratios, 2.26), multiple valve procedures (odds ratios, 2.06), and then isolated mitral (odds ratios, 1.47), pulmonic (odds ratios, 1.29), and aortic (reference procedure) operations. Reduced ejection fraction and severity of valve lesion were relatively less important (odds ratios, 1.34 and 0.83, respectively). CONCLUSIONS: These data illustrate the significance of acute presentation in determining operative risk, and earlier surgical intervention under elective conditions might be emphasized for all types of significant valve lesions. Because aortic root reconstruction doubles mortality compared with simple aortic valve procedures, root replacement should be reserved for specific root pathology. Finally, issues related to reoperation, endocarditis, valve repair, gender, and the various procedures deserve more detailed examination.