The various clinical features of multiple system atrophy (MSA) make the diagnosis of the disease difficult, especially in its early stages, when signs of differentiated neuroanatomical system involvement have not yet appeared. Mortality studies may be affected by the variability of the diagnostic criteria and selection bias. We used strict clinical and MRI criteria to diagnose MSA in 59 patients. Patients with parkinsonian and cerebellar onset were compared. Median survival time from the onset of the first motor symptom was 7.5 years. Our results indicated a trend (P = 0.09) for the Northwestern University Disability Scale score to correlate with mortality, but we failed to find other characteristics identifying subgroups or predictors for survival.