The aim of the present study was to determine survival rates of obstructive sleep apnoea patients treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and to investigate the prognostic value of pretreatment lung function and pulmonary haemodynamics. Two hundred and ninety-six patients, exhibiting > or = 20 apnoeas plus hypopnoeas per hour of sleep, were included. Patients were treated with nasal CPAP and regularly followed up. The cumulative survival rates were 0.96 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.94-0.99) at 3 yrs and 0.93 (95% CI: 0.91-0.97) at 5 yrs. Most patients died from cardiovascular disease. Apart from age, covariates associated with a lower survival were the presence of a heavy smoking history, a low vital capacity, a low forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and a high mean pulmonary artery pressure. Only three covariates were included by forward stepwise selection in the multivariate analysis, smoking habit (>30 pack-yrs), age and FEV1. The observed survival rates of the group as a whole were similar to those of the general population matched in terms of age, sex and smoking habit, except for patients between 50 and 60 yrs old who had reduced survival. This difference disappeared when patients of the present study with an associated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were excluded from the comparison. In conclusion, survival of obstructive sleep apnoea patients treated with nasal continuous positive airway pressure is near to that of the general population. The prognosis is worse in subgroups of patients with a history of heavy smoking and with an associated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.