In 42 subjects with chronic obstructive lung disease receiving chronic oral theophylline therapy, the venous whole blood theophylline concentration was closely related to the total plasma theophylline concentrations (r = 0.976, p less than 0.001). The blood/plasma concentration ratio was 0.85 +/- 0.13 and was not related to the haematocrit or the free fraction of theophylline in plasma. The red blood cell theophylline concentration was closely related and numerically similar to the free plasma concentration. This indicates that the free plasma concentration is the most important determinant of red blood cell concentration, and that binding of drug by red blood cells or active uptake into erythrocytes is unlikely to occur. Whole blood concentration can be used to predict plasma theophylline concentration in subjects with obstructive lung disease in situations where preparation of plasma is inconvenient. The therapeutic range for whole blood concentration is approximately 8.5-17 mg/L.