We prospectively studied 45 anaemic patients (37 women, 8 men) with chronic inflammatory rheumatic diseases. The combination of serum ferritin and CRP (as well as ESR) in its predictive capacity for bone marrow iron stores was examined. The relationship between other iron-related measurements (transferrin, transferrin saturation, soluble transferrin receptor, erythrocyte porphyrins and percentage of hypochromic/microcytic erythrocytes) and bone marrow iron stores was also investigated. Stainable bone marrow iron was taken as the most suitable standard to separate iron-deficient from iron-replete patients. 14 patients (31%) were lacking bone marrow iron. Regression analysis showed a good correlation between ferritin and bone marrow iron (adjusted R2 = 0.721, P < 0.0001). The combination of ferritin and CRP (ESR) did not improve the predictive power for bone marrow iron (adjusted R2 = 0.715) in this cohort of patients with low systemic inflammatory activity. With respect to the bone marrow iron content the best predictive cut-off value of ferritin was 30 micrograms/l (86% sensitivity, 90% specificity). The other iron-related parameters both individually and when combined were less powerful in predicting bone marrow iron than ferritin alone. Only zinc bound erythrocyte protoporphyrin in combination with ferritin slightly improved prediction (adjusted R2 = 0.731). A cut-off point of 11% hypochromic erythrocytes reached a high specificity (90%), but was less sensitive (77%).