We conducted a 5-year follow-up study of a group of 461 consecutive trauma patients treated in our Intensive Care Unit from 1980 to 1983. The entry criteria (initial survival and severe injury: ISS greater than or equal to 18) were fulfilled by 233 patients with a mean ISS of 29.3 and mean age of 35.6 years. Data on prehospital care, type and timing of surgery, and hospital and ICU stay were recorded during hospital discharge. The protocol strictly asked for a personal interview and a physical examination. Mailed questionnaires or phone interviews were not allowed. The areas of medical sequelae, aftercare, missed injuries, occupation, insurance, social integration, economics, legal aspects, and traffic involvement were covered. We were able to gather final information from 223 (95.6%) of the 233 cases. Forty-three patients (18.4%) died in the hospital, 13 patients (5.6%) died later, and 167 (76.5%) were eventually seen. Only 10 patients (4.4%) were lost to follow-up. Outcome was judged using the Glasgow Outcome Scale (GOS), which was compared with a GOS value given prospectively at the time of hospital discharge. Eighty-nine percent of the survivors were healthy or slightly disabled (GOS 5 and 4), 9% were severely disabled, and only 2% were in a persistent vegetative state. Outcome after 5 years was better than tentatively prognosed at the time of hospital discharge. Ninety-one patients with severe head injuries (AIS 4-5) were additionally tested using the Mini Mental State instrument. This test revealed normal mental functions in 77% and dementia, mostly of a minor degree, in 23% of the head-injured patients. Almost all the early deaths and two thirds of the late deaths were related to severe head injury. Seventy-nine percent of the survivors were working after 5 years. During the post-trauma period, patients experienced reduced social well-being and also changed professional and recreational activities. There appears to be extensive room for improvement in the posthospital recovery phase. We conclude that survivors of critical trauma have a very good chance, after 5 years, of regaining a high quality of life. All efforts at improving trauma survival and quality of trauma care are therefore worthwhile and deserve high priority.