In systemic inflammation and sepsis, endothelial activation and microvascular dysfunction are characteristic features that promote multiorgan failure. As symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) impacts vascular tension and integrity via modulating nitric oxide (NO) pathways, we investigated circulating SDMA in critical illness and sepsis. 247 critically ill patients (160 with sepsis, 87 without sepsis) were studied prospectively upon admission to the medical intensive care unit (ICU) and on day 7, in comparison to 84 healthy controls. SDMA serum levels were significantly elevated in critically ill patients at admission to ICU compared to controls and remained stably elevated during the first week of ICU treatment. The highest SDMA levels were found in patients with sepsis. SDMA levels closely correlated with disease severity scores, biomarkers of inflammation, and organ failure (renal, hepatic, and circulatory). We identified SDMA serum concentrations at admission as an independent prognostic biomarker in critically ill patients not only for short-term mortality at the ICU but also for unfavourable long-term survival. Thus, the significant increase of circulating SDMA in critically ill patients indicates a potential pathogenic involvement in endothelial dysfunction during sepsis and may be useful for mortality risk stratification at the ICU.