Chronic lung disorders are usually associated with a hypoxia driven increase in red cell mass. However, patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) often have normal or decreased haemoglobin levels. The present prospective observational study in cystic fibrosis patients was performed to determine which factors were involved in alterations in the hematopoetic response to corresponding arterial oxygen pressure. Sixty adult patients (age 21-51) with stable CF were included. They all had vitamin A, D, E, and K but no vitamin B12 supplementation. Twenty-five patients were on oral Fe(2+) (100 mg/day). Resting arterial blood gases, lung function, complete blood counts, parameters of iron status, CRP, sputum microbiology and serum erythropoietin were measured at recruitment and after 3 and 6 months. Patients had varying degrees of pulmonary functional impairment and 9% were hypoxemic (arterial oxygen pressure <60 mm Hg). Low-grade systemic inflammation (CRP > 0.5 mg/dl) was present in 40% of the patients, who all had bacterial colonization. None of the patient had erythrocytosis and 12 patients had anemia. There was no significant difference in iron status between patients with or without chronic iron supplementation and erythropoietin levels were normal. During the 6 months observation period no significant changes occurred. The patients exhibited an impaired erythropoietic response to hypoxemia with normal or low hematocrit in spite of chronic lung disease which might be caused by chronic inflammation associated with CF. Linear multivariate regression analysis revealed CRP levels but neither iron substitution, nor erythropoietin levels nor lung function parameters as independent determinant of haemoglobin levels. CF may be associated with anemia of variable severity as expression of the chronic inflammation present in these patients. The therapeutic consequences are to treat the underlying inflammation rather than to supplement iron.