Operation was employed in the treatment of 546 patients for complications of aortic dissection during the 32-year period of 1956-1988. Current concepts and operative techniques evolved during this period. Fortunately, about half the patients were treated during the latter 4 years, as modern therapy became standardized. The cumulative survival rate was 86% for all patients and 94% for those treated during recent years. Pathologic processes and requirements of operation became clearer by treating 174 patients who had had 198 previous operations by the time of referral. Reoperation was required for complications of operations now considered outdated, heart operations in patients with ascending aortic dilatation, and progressive dilatation of residual segments of the aorta. The 546 patients were followed, and a total of 838 operations were finally employed, resulting in total aortic replacement in 18, near total replacement in 41, entire thoracic aorta in 22, near total thoracic aorta in 33, and the entire thoracoabdominal aorta in 148 patients. Long-term survival in 439 patients after final operation was 66% and 44% at 5 and 10 years, respectively, despite the fact that the median age at first admission was 59. Operative treatment appears to be well-established for this disease.