We studied 29 patients with thalassaemia major who had received intensive chelation for between 6.2 and 8.8 years. All patients had normal oral glucose tolerance tests before subcutaneous chelation therapy was introduced and 22 of 29 patients had normal liver function tests. At the end of the period of study 12 patients still had normal oral glucose tolerance (7 with normal liver function tests and 5 with chronic active hepatitis). On the other hand, 11 patients had developed impaired glucose tolerance tests (3 patients had normal liver function tests, 5 with chronic active hepatitis and 3 with cirrhosis), and 6 patients had developed frank diabetes mellitus (one with chronic active hepatitis and 5 with cirrhosis). Patients with chronic active hepatitis showed 91% positivity for one or more hepatitis B markers whilst all patients with cirrhosis were positive. Ferritin levels before subcutaneous chelation in patients with normal oral glucose tolerance tests were lower than in those patients with abnormal oral glucose tolerance or diabetes (P less than 0.05) but none had normal serum ferritin levels. In addition, a positive correlation was found between glucose area under the curve after chelation therapy and serum ferritin levels (r = 0.47, P less than 0.01). It is apparent that long term chelation therapy does not prevent the development of abnormal oral glucose tolerance in chronically transfused patients. More intensive chelation therapy is needed to prevent tissue damage. Chronic liver disease may have an important role to play in the deterioration of glucose tolerance.