Among 1011 patients undergoing infrarenal aortic and infrainguinal vascular surgery in a 90-month period (1986-1993), 29 patients (2.9%) with clinical, angiographic and pathologic evidence of atheroembolism were identified. Over one-third (44.8%) of atheroemboli were iatrogenic and the rest spontaneous. All iatrogenic atheroemboli were precipitated by angiographic (n = 11; 84.6%) or operative manipulation (n = 2; 15.4%). The sources of emboli were in the abdominal arota (16), iliac (seven) and femoropopliteal (six) arteries. 'Trash foot' occurred in 19 patients (seven bilateral) and occlusions of tibioperoneal/digital arteries were seen in seven, renal and dermal microcirculation in two each, and calf muscles in one. Larger conduits were affected in three instances (common femoral, popliteal and in situ saphenous vein graft). The management consisted of 54 (43 surgical and 11 endovascular) procedures concurrently with thrombolytic, anticoagulant and antiplatelet therapy. Three early (10.3%) and two late (6.9%) deaths (overall mortality rate 17.2%), eight major (27.6%) and five minor (17.2%) amputations, and four (13.8%) instances of renal failure occurred in 17 patients resulting in a 58.6% complication rate. Besides initial angiography, 53 invasive procedures were required in 25 patients. Among these, 12 patients could be managed with a single definitive procedure in contrast to a group of 13 patients that required 41 (average 3.2 per patient) procedures. The incidence of foot ischemia, reoperation and amputation was higher in the spontaneous group, whereas, the iatrogenic group incurred a higher incidence of endovascular interventions, greater mortality and new onset renal failure. The high morbidity and mortality of atheroemboli demand prompt recognition and treatment, as well as attempts at prevention to achieve good results.