Gallstone ileus is an infrequent surgical emergency that nevertheless represents a not insignificant percentage of occlusions of the small intestine without strangulation. We present a retrospective study of 21 years (1980-2000) in 40 patients. Mean age was 76 years and most of the patients (85%) were women. Mean age and associated disease increased throughout the study period. Cases of gallstone ileus decreased in the second and third 5-year periods and clearly increased in the fourth (1996-2000). Localization of gallstones was ileum in 25 patients, jejunum in 9, duodenum in 3, colon in 1 and feces in 2. Only 12 patients (30%) received a correct preoperative diagnosis. Treatment was surgical in 38 patients with 7.5% mortality and 57.5% morbidity. Enterolithotomy was the technique of choice. A high degree of suspicion for gallstone ileus and early treatment may be the factors required to improve prognosis. The increase in life expectancy and associated comorbidity, which contraindicate elective surgery for cholelithiasis, may be contributing towards an increase in the population prone to developing gallstone ileus.