The aim of the present study was to assess the health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in patients with common rheumatic diseases referred to a rheumatology clinic and to compare it to the HRQoL of the general population. All patients with a new referral to the Department of Rheumatology of the Helsinki University Central Hospital were asked to participate in the study during the period from May 2002 to April 2003. A total of 295 patients with various rheumatic diseases were included in the analysis: 99 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), 47 with arthralgia and fibromyalgia, 43 with other chronic arthritis (spondyloarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, enteropathic arthritis), 44 with osteoarthritis (OA), 22 with active reactive arthritis (ReA), 17 with systemic rheumatic diseases, 9 adults with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and 14 with other diagnoses. HRQoL was measured by a disease specific instrument, the Stanford health assessment questionnaire (HAQ) and by a generic instrument, 15D. The mean baseline 15D score of the 295 included patients (0.822, SD 0.114) was significantly lower than of the general population (0.903, SD 0.098). Patients with OA and chronic arthritis reported the poorest HRQoL scores (both 0.810 on a 0-1 scale). In patients with RA and ReA the 15D score improved in a statistically significant and clinically important manner during the 8-month follow-up. Discomfort and symptoms caused by the disease were alleviated in a statistically significant manner in patients with RA as well as in those with arthralgia and fibromyalgia, chronic arthritis, ReA and systemic rheumatic diseases. HAQ score improved significantly in patients with RA, arthralgia and fibromyalgia, and ReA. The HRQoL of patients with common rheumatic diseases at referral to rheumatology clinic is significantly lower than the HRQoL of age-standardized general population. The most affected patients are those with OA, chronic arthritis and RA. A significant improvement in HRQoL with conventional interventions was achieved in patients with RA and ReA.