We carried out a study to compare the sensitivity to change of disease specific compared with more generic health status instruments in relation to rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A sample of 102 patients was recruited and assessed by means of 4 health status instruments and standard rheumatological measures on 3 occasions separated by 3 monthly intervals. Sensitivity to change for mobility, activities of daily living, household, pain, emotions and social dimensions were calculated. For some dimensions disease specific health status instruments performed less well. However overall there was no evidence of consistent differences between the 2 approaches. We conclude that generic instruments have a role in the assessment of RA.