The major concern in the management of venous thromboembolism is the propagation of thrombus and rethrombosis. The incidence of recurrences and the duration of oral anticoagulant therapy in these patients are still controversial. The aim of this study was to determine the incidence, timing, and outcome of further thrombotic events after an initial episode of venous thromboembolism in a hospital setting. In addition, we evaluated potential risk factors for all these outcomes. This was designed as a retrospective analysis of all patients admitted to our Center with an episode of deep vein thrombosis and/or pulmonary embolism between 1986 and 1996. The patients included in the study had to be treated with unfractionated heparin or low molecular weight heparin, followed by at least 3 months of oral anticoagulants. Natural and acquired hemostasis inhibitors were assayed in patients aged less than 50 years. A total of 290 patients with a first episode of venous thromboembolism were included in the study. A total of 33 patients (11.9%, 95% confidence interval. 7.4-14.6) had recurrent episodes. The cumulative incidence of recurrent venous thromboembolism after 2, 5, and 10 years was 7.68, 10, and 12.4%, respectively. The incidence of rethrombosis was significantly higher in patients with idiopathic venous thromboembolism than in patients with secondary thrombosis. Abnormalities of hemostasis were found in 54.5% (95% confidence interval, 37.6-71.4) of the patients with recurrences and under the age of 50 years. Three of seven patients who stopped anticoagulant therapy after the second episode presented a third thrombotic event. In our study population, those patients with idiopathic venous thromboembolism seem to have an increased risk of recurrence. The second thrombotic episode occurs more frequently during the following 2 years after cessation of anticoagulation therapy. Our findings strongly support the use of long-term anticoagulant therapy in patients with recurrent venous thromboembolism.