PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to ascertain the health status and quality of life of a community based cohort of people with multiple sclerosis. METHOD: A postal questionnaire with self-completed measures of impairment, disability, physical dependency and quality of life was sent to a random sample of 203 people with multiple sclerosis from a population register. The sample was stratified according to five disease courses. The population register is of the prevalent population of 760 people with multiple sclerosis resident in the Leeds Health Authority. The register used multiple sources of ascertainment and is prospectively maintained with new incident cases. RESULTS: The estimated mean age of people with multiple sclerosis is 46 years (SE: 0.85), and mean duration of disease is 14.4 years (SE: 0.69). Almost four in five (78 %) are female, and one in six (17%) live alone. Impairments of balance, vision and memory are common and in all cases there is little difference in the frequency between disease course groups. In contrast, impairments of bladder and bowel are more common in those with a progressive disease course. Disability is more common in those with a progressive disease course but all scores on the SF36 Physical Function scale are low and demonstrate the disabling consequences of the disease, irrespective of disease course. These consequences must contribute to the fact that over two-thirds (68 %) were not employed at the time of the survey. Quality of life does not differ across disease course groups, but rather varies by age and duration. CONCLUSIONS: People with multiple sclerosis experience a range of impairments and disabilities. Those with progressive disease courses experience greater levels of impairment and disability than other groups. There is not a straightforward exchange between health status and quality of life. A measure of subjective quality of life may reflect adjustment to disease, such that, for example, the longer the duration, the older the individual, the more likely the person will report a relatively good quality of life.
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