The functional and histologic picture of steroid-induced myopathy was systematically examined in eight patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and compared with control patients with COPD matched for age, sex, and degree of airflow obstruction. Steroid-induced myopathy was associated with severe peripheral muscle weakness, quadriceps force being 23 +/- 14 versus 71 +/- 23% in control patients with COPD (p < 0.001). In addition, clear ventilatory muscle weakness was present. PImax was 37 +/- 15 versus 67 +/- 24% in control patients (p < 0.001 ), and PEmax averaged 34 +/- 10 versus 74 +/- 23% (p < 0.001). Vital capacity tended to be slightly reduced compared with that in control patients (69 +/- 21 versus 80 +/- 16%, p = 0.11). The only biochemical abnormalities associated to steroid-induced myopathy were a moderately increased lactic dehydrogenase level (697 +/- 301 versus 421 +/- 128 IU/L, p < 0.001) and an increased creatine excretion in 24-h urine (990 +/- 609 versus 159 +/- 219 mg/24 h, p< 0.001). On quadriceps biopsy steroid-induced myopathy was characterized by increased variation in diameter of fibers, with several angular atrophic fibers and diffuse necrotic and basophilic fibers. In addition, increased amount of connective tissue in between fibers and increased number of subsarcolemmal and central nuclei were present. On ATPase stain diffuse fiber atrophy predominantly affecting fast fibers was present, but there was no indication that atrophy was confined to type IIb fibers in contrast to conventional thinking. On follow-up, survival of patients with steroid-induced myopathy was reduced in comparison with control patients with COPD with similar degree of airflow obstruction (p < 0.025).