Adhesions from previous surgery and peritonitis can lead to peritoneal dialysis catheter insertion failure, visceral injury, and poor dialysis function. Employing a laparoscopic approach, the effect of adhesiolysis on mechanical catheter complications and long-term catheter survival was prospectively examined in 436 catheter placement procedures having a 57.8 per cent prevalence rate of previous surgery. Adhesiolysis was required in 31.8 per cent of cases with prior surgery and in 3.3 per cent of procedures without previous operations. The incidence of adhesiolysis was directly related to the number of prior surgeries (P < 0.0001). The incidence of catheter insertion failure from extensive adhesions was 1.8 per cent. Survival probability free from catheter obstruction was lower in patients requiring adhesiolysis compared with subjects with prior surgery not requiring adhesiolysis (P = 0.01). Laparoscopic rescue procedures limited catheter losses from flow obstruction to only 0.7 per cent. As a result, long-term catheter survival was not different among patients regardless of prior surgery and/or adhesion status (P = 0.2). Scars on the abdomen and prior peritonitis do not predict the extent of adhesions and should not be used to judge eligibility for peritoneal dialysis. Presently, laparoscopy is the only practical way to provide optimal peritoneal access in patients with a history of surgery and peritonitis.