The demographic, clinical, pathological and serological features of 123 decreased patients with systemic sclerosis have been analysed. These patients consisted of all identified patients dying with this disease in South Australia between 1983 and 1996 inclusive. There were 85 females and 38 males, with the ratio of limited:diffuse:overlap disease subset being 9:5:1. Disease characteristics revealed that patients with the limited disease tended to be female with high frequencies of the centromere autoantibody, while patients with the diffuse disease had equal gender representation with the frequent presence of nucleolar, speckled or homogeneous antinuclear antibody. Mean duration of disease and mean age of death for the limited:diffuse:overlap subsets differed significantly between groups (p < 0.05) and were 16.5, 9.3 and 10.9 years and 71.9, 57.8 and 52.8 years respectively. Cumulative survival curves for the subsets differed highly significantly, with patients with the limited diseases dying more commonly from right heart failure (documented terminally in 25% of the centromere positive limited subset), cardiovascular disease or cancer, while patients with the diffuse subset died from respiratory failure, renal failure or cardiovascular disease. In conclusion, this retrospective analysis has revealed that scleroderma is a relatively common but clinically heterogeneous disorder. There are important clinical and prognostic implications in defining limited versus diffuse versus overlap disease.