BACKGROUND: There is substantial evidence that cerebral ischaemia triggers an inflammatory response. We examined the short-term prognostic value on mortality of C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and serum amyloid A (SAA) in patients with ischaemic stroke. METHODS: We recruited 203 consecutive patients, under the age of 66 years (mean age=54.2+/-8.1 years, men=132) who admitted to the Neurology Department with the diagnosis of non-haemorrhagic stroke. Patients in atrial fibrillation or with evidence of inflammatory or malignant disease were excluded. The diagnosis was confirmed with a computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging of the brain within 24h of admission. CRP, IL-6 and SAA levels were determined within 12h from admission. RESULTS: Fourteen (6.9%) patients died during hospitalization. Serum concentrations of CRP, IL-6 and SAA were significantly higher in patients who died compared with those who survived and were independently associated with early death, after adjusting for various confounding factors. For one unit increase in IL-6, CRP and SAA there was an 18%, 14% and 9% higher risk of dying during hospitalization, respectively. Comparisons of the areas under the ROC curve showed that IL-6 had the best predictive ability. Age-adjusted cut-off point analysis showed that IL-6 levels >13 pg/ml were the optimal point that discriminated those who died from the rest of the patients (sensitivity=85% and specificity=93%). CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrated that in-hospital mortality in ischaemic stroke is associated with an exacerbation of inflammatory response as it is reflected by the higher serum levels of IL-6, CRP and SAA. From the inflammatory markers high IL-6 levels had the strongest independent predictive value for in-hospital mortality.