This study examined health status decline in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Data are from the Inhaled Steroids in Obstructive Lung Disease (ISOLDE) trial. After an 8-wk run-in, 751 patients (566 male), mean age 64 yr, were randomized to receive fluticasone propionate (FP) 500 microg twice daily (376 patients) or placebo (375 patients). Mean baseline postbronchodilator FEV1 was 50 +/- 15% predicted. Patients completed the St George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) and the Short-Form 36 (SF-36) at baseline and every 6 mo for 3 yr. FEV1 and smoking status were assessed at baseline and at 3-mo intervals. A total of 387 (212 FP) patients completed the trial. All SGRQ components (p = 0.03 to 0.004) and Physical Function, Mental Health, Energy/ Vitality, and Physical Role Limitation scales of the SF-36 (p = 0.05 to 0.005) deteriorated faster in the placebo group. FEV1 and SGRQ scores correlated at baseline values (r = -0.25, p < 0.0001), as did change in FEV1 and change in SGRQ (Delta r = -0.24, p < 0.0001). At baseline values smokers had worse SGRQ Total, Symptoms, and Impacts scores than ex-smokers. This difference was maintained throughout the study. Smoking status did not influence the rate of decline in health status. The SGRQ Total scores of FP-treated patients took 59% longer than placebo to deteriorate by a clinically significant amount. We conclude that health status decline in moderate to severe COPD can be reduced by high-dose fluticasone.