Dialysis-associated steal syndrome (DASS) occurring after creation of arteriovenous fistulas often necessitates ligation of the fistula. From June 1987 to June 1990, a total of 542 upper extremity arteriovenous fistulas were constructed: radiocephalic fistulas in 182 patients, 325 forearm loop grafts and 32 upper arm loop grafts. We managed 27 patients with DASS including two patients who were referred from other hospitals. DASS developed in two patients (1%) with radiocephalic fistulas and in 23 patients (6.4%) with arteriovenous grafts. Of the 27 patients, the fistula was ligated in nine because of tissue loss, severity of symptoms, or absence of improvement in digital pressure with the fistula occluded. Intraoperative digital photoplethysmography was used to guide the amount of graft narrowing in 16 patients. The goal was to obtain a digital blood pressure of 50 mm Hg or digital to brachial ratio of more than 0.6. Ten of the 16 patients had satisfactory graft function for more than 6 months, and all patients had improvement or resolution of the steal syndrome. We conclude that DASS is an uncommon complication of upper extremity arteriovenous shunts and narrowing of the fistula and that using intraoperative digital photoplethysmography as a guide is a useful method for relieving the steal syndrome and salvaging the shunt.