In this Danish multicentre study, predictive clinical factors of mortality and survival were calculated for 513 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), 122 of whom died within a mean observation period of 8.2 years equalling a mortality rate of 2.9% per year. Survival rates were 97%, 91%, 76% and 64% after 1, 5, 10 and 15 years, respectively. The direct causes of death included SLE (n = 35), infections (n = 25), malignancy (n = 9), cardiovascular disease (n = 32) and other causes (n = 21). Uni- and multivariate analyses of survival and mortality were performed for all deaths and for SLE-related deaths. Azotaemia (one-fifth of the patients) was a strong predictor of increased overall and SLE-related mortality, but nephropathy per se (one-half of the patients) and large proteinuria (one-sixth of the patients) were unrelated to survival. Haemolytic anaemia had a significant negative influence on survival related to mortality caused by infections. Diffuse central nervous system disease and myocarditis were related to increased SLE-related mortality, whereas photosensitivity predicted a decreased mortality. Non-fatal infections and thrombotic events predicted a decreased overall survival. Since 1980 the mortality caused by SLE manifestations has decreased significantly.