A series of 11,890 patients from the senior investigator's surgical service between 1949 and 1998 is analyzed for the significance of distinct risk factors for recurrence of, and survival from, atherosclerotic occlusive disease. Eight risk factors have been assessed for their importance in 4 defined arterial categories (the coronary arterial bed, the branches of the aorta, the abdominal visceral [celiac, superior mesenteric, and renal] arteries, and the terminal abdominal aorta and its major branches) in determining survival rate of the entire group and their impact on rate of recurrence of atherosclerosis in a subgroup of 5,568 patients who had > or =1 postoperative arteriogram, permitting precise identification of changes in the atherosclerotic process. Patients in these 2 groups were followed for > or =25 years; univariate and multivariate analyses were used. On admission all patients had symptomatic atherosclerotic occlusive disease in a single vascular category. Each patient was treated surgically for alleviation of the disease. Two primary outcomes are included: (1) survival, by atherosclerosis category, in all 11,890 patients; and (2) recurrence, also by category, in the subset of 5,568 patients. Multivariate results for recurrence showed little consistency across categories. Only 1 risk factor, diabetes, appeared in 2 of the 3 categories fully analyzed. Other variables that are significant in only a single category are male sex, cholesterol, hypertension, and smoking. Survival showed much greater consistency, with age, diabetes, and hypertension significant in all 3 categories, male sex and smoking in 2, and cholesterol in only Category I. Univariate results followed much the same trend. For recurrence and survival, the response of the arterial bed to the risk factors in each of the 4 categories is distinctly different, an observation that we have not found to be previously reported.