Seventy-three patients underwent total colectomy, rectal mucosectomy, creation of J or S ileal reservoir, and ileal pouch-anal anastomosis from 1982 to 1989. Mean follow-up was 38 months, with a minimum of 3 months in 15 patients being followed long-term at another institution. Forty-eight (66%) patients had histologically proven ulcerative colitis and 25 (34%) patients had familial polyposis. Thirty-eight J reservoirs and 35 S reservoirs were constructed. There were no perioperative deaths. The failure rate (loss of pouch) was 3%. Thirty-six complications in 34 (47%) patients were reported, 14 (19%) patients required surgery. Bowel obstruction was the most common postoperative complication (16%), followed by pouchitis (15%), and cuff infection (5%). Seventy-eight percent of the complications were associated with the J pouch. Average stool frequency at 1 year was 4 per 24-hour period. Other complications included postoperative pneumonia (1), peroneal nerve palsy (1), and temporary sexual dysfunction (1). Seven of 15 complications requiring surgical intervention occurred in the first 2 years of the study period, illustrating the learning curve associated with the procedure. Blood loss, transfusion requirements, and length of operation were not associated with higher complication rates. Use of the J pouch and experience of the individual surgeon affected morbidity.