Over recent decades short- and medium-term survival has greatly improved in patients affected with systemic lupus erythematosus, but long-term prognosis still remains poor mainly due to complications of the disease and/or its treatment. To improve long-term prognosis in systemic lupus erythematosus, we should try to adopt, early in the disease course, strategies that can contribute to reducing long-term complications, including screening for and prophylaxis against infections, control of risk factors for atherosclerosis, and cancer surveillance. However, in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus all these preventive strategies are often not sufficient. Indeed, two important systemic lupus erythematosus-related factors play a relevant role in all these complications: severe disease manifestations, such as glomerulonephritis and central nervous system involvement, and corticosteroid and cyclophosphamide use. Therefore, to prevent long-term complications, we should try to control disease activity and severity using the lowest effective dosage of these drugs. Moreover, strategies directed at preventing clinical manifestations in asymptomatic antinuclear antibody-positive individuals or in antiphospholipid antibody-positive systemic lupus erythematosus patients, as well as at preventing severe manifestations in patients with mild systemic lupus erythematosus at the time of the diagnosis should be considered.