The aim of this study was to investigate whether initial and accrued organ damage measured by Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics (SLICC) Damage Index (SDI) predicts mortality in cohort of Brazilian patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). One hundred and five outpatients with SLE were enrolled from July 2000 to March 2001; their demographics, disease manifestations, interventions and quantified disease activity (SLEDAI) were obtained. SDI was measured at baseline and at the end of follow-up. Initial and accrued SDI prognostic values for mortality were investigated by multivariate Cox survival analysis and Kaplan-Meyer survival curves. After a median follow-up of 6.3 years, 19 patients died due to disease activity, end-organ failure, cardiovascular events, cancer and infection. Deceased patients had longer disease duration and greater initial and final SDI than survivors had. After adjustment for age, sex and disease duration, both initial and final SDI >/= 3 points were independent predictors of mortality, with hazard ratios (HRs) of 3.0 (1.1-8.2) and 4.7 (1.6-14.5), respectively. Damage accrual during follow-up was the strongest predictor of death (HR: 5.1, 2.0-13.0). Renal and pulmonary damages were the main predictors of increased mortality risk. In conclusion, baseline and accrued damage increase mortality risk in Brazilian patients with SLE. Measures to prevent damage development and progression are urgent to reduce the mortality of patients with SLE.