The purpose of this study was to determine the clinical characteristics of chronic renal failure patients who developed hand ischemia in the limb carrying the dialysis angioaccess. A retrospective review of the charts of 352 patients who underwent 409 upper extremity arteriovenous access, and who were subsequently diagnosed as steal syndrome, was performed at the Emory University Hospital between February 1992 and January 1997. Hand ischemia occurred after 13 of 299 arteriovenous grafts (4.3%) and after 2 of 110 direct forearm arteriovenous fistulas (1.8%). Six patients developed ischemic manifestations immediately postoperatively, 2 in the first week, 4 after 1 month, and 1 after 1 year. Thirteen occurred in association with the primary access procedure. Two cases occurred following graft thrombectomy and outflow dilatation. Seven patients were mildly symptomatic with dialysis-induced pain, coldness, or numbness; 8 patients developed severe ischemic manifestations in the form of sensory loss in 3, severe intolerable pain with impalpable pulse in 3, and digital gangrene and amputation in 2, one of whom developed an unhealed amputation stump and required a higher amputation level with satisfactory healing of the revised stump. Three patients were treated conservatively, 6 by banding, 4 by ligation, 1 by embolization, and 1 by distal ligation and bypass operation. Clinical characteristics of patients with hand ischemia included long-standing insulin-dependent diabetes (10), chronic hypertension (12), peripheral arterial disease (14; 93.3%), coronary artery disease (8), and systemic lupus erythematosis (1). Severe peripheral arterial diseases are commonly found and may be markers for risk of hand ischemia after access surgery.