Summary. Serum erythropoietin (Epo) values were estimated in samples from 125 patients with erythrocytosis to examine the specificity and sensitivity of reduced and raised values in the diagnosis of polycythaemia vera (PV) and secondary erythrocytosis (SE) respectively. Additionally, Epo values were estimated in samples from 49 patients with primary thrombocythaemia (PT) to determine whether Epo values were altered. We found high specificity (92%) and moderate sensitivity (64%) of low serum Epo values (below the reference range) in the diagnosis of PV, and also poor sensitivity (47%) of raised Epo values in the diagnosis of SE. Raised Epo values were not observed in PV patients with Hb > 14·0 g/dl and were only observed in one PV patient with a relatively low Hb recovering from a gastro-intestinal haemorrhage. Raised Epo values occurred in some patients with apparent erythrocytosis (AE) and idiopathic erythrocytosis (IE), mainly at normal (rather than raised) Hb values (< 16 g/dl). Low Epo values occurred in a few AE, IE and SE patients at higher Hb values (> 16 g/dl). Low Epo values were less specific for PV when the Hb was raised, while raised Epo values were less specific for SE when the Hb was not raised. Approximately one third of patients with PT had a low (below the reference range) Epo value, this being associated with a high normal Hb (> 14 g/dl, P < 0·001) and showing a trend towards association with absence of treatment. The high normal Hb values were in turn associated with an increased incidence of thrombotic events (P < 0·05). These findings could influence the future investigation and management of PT patients.