The increase in demand for renal replacement therapy makes it important to investigate the prognosis of the earlier stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD). We examined the change in glomerular filtration rate (GFR), and patient and renal survival in CKD stage 3 in the municipality of Tromsø, a well-defined European community with a population of 58,000. All patients with estimated GFR between 30 and 59 ml/min/1.73 m(2) for more than 3 months during a 10-year study period were identified from a complete database of all 248 560 measurements of serum creatinine made in the community in the study period. Change in GFR was estimated for each patient using a multilevel model. A complete follow-up with respect to patient and renal survival was obtained from hospital databases. A total of 3047 patients was included. The median number of measurements of creatinine for each patient was 9, and the median observation time was 44 months. Mean estimated change in GFR was--1.03 ml/min/1.73 m(2)/year. Seventy-three percent of the patients experienced a decline in GFR. The 10-year cumulative incidence of renal failure was 0.04 (95% CI 0.03-0.06) and mortality 0.51 (95% CI 0.48-0.55). Female gender was associated with slower decline in GFR and better patient and renal survival. In this population-based study, the decline in GFR in CKD was slower than in previously studied selected patient groups. A high mortality pre-empted the development of renal failure in many patients. The prognosis of CKD depended strongly on gender.