1. As an ancillary study carried out during the recently completed Multicenter Study of Hydroxyurea, we examined the effect of hydroxyurea on the body weight, body composition and exercise capacity of adult patients with sickle-cell anaemia. 2. The subjects received either hydroxyurea (six males and four females) or placebo (eight males and six females). Data for each subject were generated during four separate 24 h admissions to the General Clinical Research Center. These admissions occurred at baseline and then at 6, 12 and 18 months after the start of study drug (hydroxyurea or placebo) administration. During each admission, body composition was measured by using a dual X-ray absorptiometer, and exercise testing was performed by cycle ergometry. Anaerobic performance was assessed according to a 'Wingate' protocol (20 s at maximal intensity against a cycling resistance of 7.5% body weight). Aerobic performance was examined using a steady state submaximal exercise protocol (10 min cycling time). 3. At baseline, no significant difference in any parameter was found between the hydroxyurea- and placebo-treated groups. At 18 months, the hydroxyurea-treated subjects exhibited an average weight gain of 3.16 kg. The mean weight gain in the placebo-treated subjects was 1.82 kg. Body composition analysis showed that the additional weight in both groups involved both lean and fat body mass components. In anaerobic performance, the subjects given hydroxyurea showed an increase in peak muscle power of 104.9 W. The placebo group also showed an increase, but theirs was a more modest gain of 57.7 W. The most marked improvement in anaerobic performance was observed in the hydroxyurea-treated men (P < 0.05). In aerobic performance, the hydroxyurea-treated subjects exhibited a decrease in peak heart rate response to a standardized workload of 15.2 beats/min, as compared with a decrease of only 4.3 beats/min in the placebo-treated patients. 4. Taken together, the overall weight gain, combined with increases in both anaerobic muscular performance and aerobic cardiovascular efficiency, provides objective data to support the subjective impression that hydroxyurea administration produces an improvement in the physical capacity of patients with sickle-cell anaemia.