The use of health status as an outcome measure is becoming more widespread in pulmonary rehabilitation. There are a number of health status measures but the choice remains uncertain. Three disease specific measures and two generic measures of health status were employed to observe their relative sensitivity to a 7-week course of pulmonary rehabilitation. Patients with stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were recruited into a rehabilitation programme. They completed a shuttle-walking test and three disease-specific questionnaires: the Chronic Respiratory Questionnaire (CRQ), the St. George's Hospital Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) and the Breathing Problems Questionnaire (BPQ). Patients also completed two generic questionnaires: a global quality-of-life scale and an activity checklist. Ninety-seven patients [58 male mean (SD) age 67 (8.7) years] completed the course over a 12-month period. The mean pre-rehabilitation (SD) FEV1 was 1.06 (0.59) l. The shuttle-walking test and the treadmill-endurance test increased significantly after rehabilitation (P<0.001). All three disease-specific questionnaires improved significantly (the CRQ and SGRQ improved beyond minimum clinically important difference). The global score improved significantly whilst the 'things people do' decreased. All three disease-specific measures were responsive to pulmonary rehabilitation. However the operator-led CRQ appears to be the most sensitive short-term outcome measure.