Data reported in 1972 indicated that lifespan in patients with the Marfan syndrome is markedly shortened, and that most deaths are cardiovascular. This study was performed to determine whether survival in the Marfan syndrome has changed since 1972, and to discern whether treatment (medical or surgical) has altered prognosis. Survival curves were generated on 417 patients from 4 referral centers, with a definite diagnosis of the Marfan syndrome. Birth date, age at death, cardiovascular surgery, or treatment with beta blockers, or any combination of these, were included in the analysis. Forty-seven of 417 patients died. Mean age at death (41 +/- 18 years) was significantly increased compared with age in 1972 (32 +/- 16 years, p = 0.0023). Median (50%) cumulative probability of survival in 1993 was 72 years compared with 48 years in 1972. Of 112 surgically treated patients, 10-year probability of survival was 70%. Patients undergoing surgery after 1980 enjoyed significantly increased survival than patients who had undergone operation before 1980 (p = 0.008). In conclusion, life expectancy for patients with the Marfan syndrome has increased > 25% since 1972. Reasons for this dramatic increase may include (1) an overall improvement in population life expectancy, (2) benefits arising from cardiovascular surgery, and (3) greater proportion of milder cases due to increased frequency of diagnosis. Medical therapy (including beta blockers) was also associated with an increase in probable survival.