This study was a 4-year prospective audit of abdominal aortic aneurysm surgery including 222 aneurysm repairs: 106 elective, 76 urgent and 40 emergency. Twenty-five patients died: four who underwent elective surgery, seven urgent and 14 emergency. The two major causes of death, multiple organ failure and colonic ischaemia, were responsible for 11 of the 25 deaths. The three deaths from myocardial infarction all occurred in patients with a leaking aneurysm. Blood loss was significantly higher in patients with multiple organ failure and in those with colonic ischaemia. Methods to identify patients at high risk of massive blood loss and colonic ischaemia may be a way to reduce mortality.