Objective. The Medical Outcomes Study Short Form 36 (SF-36) is recommended to assess quality of life (QOL) in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The aim of the current study was to assess QOL over time in the first 5 years of a multicenter inception cohort of patients with SLE. Methods. An inception SLE cohort was assembled according to a standardized protocol between 2000 and 2012. In addition to clinical and laboratory assessments, patients completed the SF-36 at yearly intervals. Only patients who had ≥5 completed QOL questionnaires were included in these analyses. Generalized estimating equation models were run separately for each of the 8 subscales and for the physical and mental component summary scores, adjusting for repeated measures by patients. Results. A total of 495 patients were included. The mean ± SD disease duration at the first visit was 5.3 ± 4.1 months. The mean ± SD age at enrollment was 35.8 ± 13.2 years. All 8 subscales and the 2 summary scores showed improvement in the first 2 years from enrollment. Between years 2 and 5, none of the subscales or summary scores showed any change. Minimum clinically important improvement was achieved by 35-56% of the patients and was influenced by demographic and disease factors. Conclusion. Unlike late-stage lupus, where QOL is stable over time, in patients with early disease, all subscales improve in early followup up to 2 years. Therefore, the SF-36 may be a sensitive outcome measure in early disease in patients with SLE. Copyright © 2014 by the American College of Rheumatology.