The purpose of this study was to determine the influence of chronic illness, obesity, and type of repair on the likelihood of recurrence following incisional herniorrhaphy. The medical records of 77 patients who underwent elective repair of a midline incisional hernia at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center between 1991 and 1995 were reviewed. Demographic data, presence of chronic illnesses, type of repair, and presence of recurrence were noted. Ninety-six percent of the patients were men, with an average age of 59 years. More than 50% of the patients had chronic lung or cardiac diseases and more than 40% weighed ≥120% of their ideal body weight and had a body mass index (BMI) ≥30. Sixty-two percent of the patients underwent primary reapproximation of the fascia (tissue repair), whereas 38% underwent repair with prosthetic material (prosthetic repair). The overall recurrence rate was 45%, with a median follow-up of 45 months (range 6-73). Seventy-four percent of the recurrences presented within 3 years of repair. The recurrence rate for those patients undergoing a tissue repair was 54%, whereas the recurrence rate following prosthetic repair was 29%. The incidence of recurrence for patients with pulmonary or cardiac disease or diabetes mellitus was similar to that of patients without these illnesses. The percent ideal body weight and BMI of patients who developed a recurrent hernia, particularly following a prosthetic repair, were significantly greater than those of patients whose repairs remained intact. These data strongly support the use of prosthetic repairs for incisional hernias, particularly in patients who are overweight.