The risk of developing bilateral disease progressing to total hip arthroplasty (THA) among patients who undergo unilateral THA for non-traumatic avascular necrosis (AVN) remains poorly understood. An analysis of the time-course to contralateral THA, as well as the effects of underlying AVN risk factors, is presented. Forty-seven consecutive patients who underwent THA for AVN were evaluated. Peri-operative and annual post-operative antero-posterior pelvis radiographs were examined for evidence of contralateral involvement. Patient age, weight, height, underlying AVN risk factor(s), date of onset of contralateral hip pain if occurred, and date of contralateral THA if performed, were recorded. Bone scan, computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging data were utilized when available. Twenty-one patients (46.6%) underwent contralateral THA for AVN within a median of 9 months after the initial THA (range 0-93, interquartile range 28.5 months). The median follow-up for patients without contralateral THA was 75 months (range 3-109, interquartile range 69 months). Thirty-four patients had radiographic findings of contralateral AVN at study entry; 25 were symptomatic bilaterally at entry and 7 developed contralateral symptoms within a mean time of 12 months (median 10 months, interquartile range 12 months). None of the 13 patients who were free of radiographic evidence of contralateral AVN at study entry developed evidence of AVN during the follow-up. AVN associated with glucocorticoid use was more likely to manifest as bilateral disease than either idiopathic AVN or ethanol-associated AVN (P=0.02 and P=0.03 respectively). Radiographically-evident AVN in the contralateral hip at THA is unlikely to remain asymptomatic for a prolonged period of time. Conversely, asymptomatic contralateral hips without radiographic evidence of AVN are unlikely to develop clinically significant AVN.