The objective of this study was to analyse the survival rate and cause of death in children with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) during the past 30 years in Chile. A retrospective analysis was performed between 1969 and 2000 on patients attending pediatric rheumatology centres in Santiago, Chile. Survival and causes of death in 31 children followed from 1969 to 1980 fulfilling the 1982 American College of Rheumatology criteria for SLE and treated with oral steroids were compared with 50 other patients who were treated with oral steroids and an aggressive treatment of IV bolus of cyclophosphamide (38 patients) and azathioprine (12 patients). Global survival at five and 10 years follow-up for the patients studied from 1969 to 1980 was 68 and 40%, respectively. During the second study period these values were significantly improved and global survival reached 95% at five years and 90% at 10 years follow-up (P < 0.05). Survival at 10 years follow-up for patients with lupus nephropathy increased from 28% (study period 1964-1980) to 86% (study period 1984-2000). Twelve children died (38%) during the 1964-1980 study period. The causes of death were six due to kidney failure, three due to infectious conditions and another three of unknown causes. During the 1980-2000 study period mortality reached 6% (three cases), two cases died of a lupus flare-up and one case due to infection. In the last three decades, we have seen an important increase in the survival of children with SLE, especially in those patients with renal involvement. Management with immunosuppressive drugs, such as IV cyclophosphamide or azathioprine has changed the prognosis in these children. These results demonstrate that our children with SLE increased their life expectancy but are now faced with new types of morbidity because of the sequelae related to the disease itself.