A retrospective review of 222 consecutive patients with duodenal injuries admitted to an urban Level 1 Trauma Center who subsequently underwent laparotomy during the period July 1980 to April 2002 was performed in an effort to elucidate factors associated with mortality, infectious morbidity, and length of stay in these patients. Predictably, the patients were predominantly male (92.7%) and young (mean age, 31.6 years). The overall mortality rate was 22.5 per cent, with a mortality rate of 18 per cent seen in the first 48 hours. Penetrating trauma was suffered by 88.3 per cent of the patients. Multivariate analysis revealed the performance of a thoracotomy, initial emergency department (ED) systolic blood pressure (SBP) <90 mm Hg, final operating room (OR) core body temperature less than 35 degrees C, and presence of a splenic injury to be the most important predictors of mortality (all P < 0.05). Mortality in the patients undergoing a resuscitative thoracotomy was 88.9 per cent versus 13.3 per cent in those patients not requiring thoracotomy. An initial SBP in the ED <90 was associated with a 46 per cent mortality rate, as compared with 4 per cent in those patients not in shock. A final OR core body temperature of less than 35 degrees C led to a 60 per cent mortality rate versus 8.3 per cent for warmer patients. Patients with a concomitant splenic injury were noted to have a 62.5 per cent mortality rate; those without had a 19.4 per cent mortality rate. The mean length of stay among survivors greater than 48 hours was 16.0 +/- 24.7 days. Univariate analyses revealed lowest OR core body temperature below 35 degrees C, initial OR SBP <90, presence of infection, >5 transfusions, initial ED SBP <90, final OR core temperature <35 degrees C, colon injury, spleen injury, and an injury severity score (ISS) >25 all to be significantly associated with increased length of stay. Multivariate analysis revealed an initial operating room blood pressure of less than 90 mm Hg systolic, the presence of an infection, and greater than 5 blood transfusions to be the factors most significantly correlated with increased length of stay (all P < 0.02). Of 182 patients surviving 48 hours, 98 (54%) developed an infection. Fifty-seven (31%) patients were noted to have wound-related infections, 92 (51%) patients had nosocomial infections, and 50 (27%) patients had both types. The presence of an abdominal arterial injury, an ISS >25, pancreatic injury, and lowest OR core body temperature <35 degrees C were the factors identified on multivariate analysis most significantly correlated with infectious morbidity (all P < 0.05). This data suggests that early efforts to prevent shock and rapidly control bleeding are the most likely efforts to reduce mortality rates in these patients. Those patients with duodenal injury presenting in shock or requiring a thoracotomy for resuscitation did poorly. Splenic injury was the associated injury found on multivariate analysis to be most closely associated with increased mortality. Early control of bleeding and the prevention of infection provide the most significant opportunity for decreasing length of stay. Infections are common with duodenal injuries, and aggressive surveillance should especially be performed in those patients with an abdominal arterial injury, an ISS >25, pancreatic injury, or lowest OR core body temperature <35 degrees C.