In African American hemodialysis patients, the prevalence of autogenous arteriovenous fistula (AVF) use is lower yet AVF complications are higher. However, the adequacy and survival rates of AVF in African American patients have not been clarified. These rates were evaluated in this study. A prospective surveillance of AVF was conducted at the Morehouse School of Medicine affiliated dialysis units. A database was generated to adequately document the dates of AVF creation, cannulation, and failure; anatomic fistula sites; and demographic and pertinent clinical information. A total of 167 AVF were created in 140 African American patients between 1997 and 2001. The mean age of the patients was 56 +/- 14 (21-83) years, and the mean duration of follow-up was 40 +/- 3 (1-200) weeks. Only 92 of 167 (55%) AVF were adequate for cannulation; 12% (20 of 167) failed to mature and 33% (55 of 167) developed early failure. Unassisted primary patency rates at 6 and 12 months were 85% and 61%, respectively. Both fistula adequacy and survival were greater in younger (aged < 65 years), male patients and in nondiabetic patients, but the differences were not significant. Logistic regression analysis showed that advanced age (> or = 65 years), female gender, and diabetic state did not significantly alter AVF adequacy. However, the presence of peripheral vascular disease adversely affected AVF adequacy [Odds Ratio 0.4 (confidence interval 0.2-1.0), p = 0.048]. The adequacy and survival rates of AVF in African Americans are comparable with those reported in other populations. Fistula adequacy and survival appear to be independent of ethnicity but dependent on individual comorbid conditions and the integrity of the vasculature. Discriminant AVF site selection and adequate preoperative assessment of the vasculature remain crucial to AVF survival.