Background : The current understanding of quality of life impairment in inflammatory bowel disease has largely been derived from selected populations and may not reflect the experience of patients in the community, where fewer than half are likely to be under specialist care.

Aim : To describe the health-related quality of life in a community-based sample of patients with established inflammatory bowel disease and explore its association with the type and extent of disease, gender, age, material deprivation and other factors.

Methods : Adults with established inflammatory bowel disease were identified systematically from the records of 23 family practices in north-east England. The health-related quality of life was assessed by self-completion of the UK Inflammatory Bowel Disease Questionnaire.

Results : Five hundred and fifty-six patients were sent the questionnaire and 409 (74%) gave usable replies. Lower scores (worse quality of life) were significantly associated with female gender, Crohn's disease, more extensive disease (ulcerative colitis) and being under specialist care. The mean health-related quality of life score was significantly lower in patients resident in more deprived districts, independent of the type and extent of disease.

Conclusions : Most patients with established inflammatory bowel disease showed only minor impairment of their health-related quality of life. On average, women and those with Crohn's disease were relatively more affected. Clinicians responsible for the care of patients with inflammatory bowel disease should be aware of these more vulnerable groups.