Theophylline poisoning with a blood level of 183 mg/l in a 38-year-old man was treated with activated charcoal by mouth, but despite this the blood level of theophylline rose and there was circulatory collapse with rhabdomyolysis, acute renal failure and hyperthermia. Treatment with charcoal haemoperfusion and simultaneous haemodialysis was given, followed by continuous arteriovenous haemodialysis (CAVHD). Mean extraction rates of theophylline were 26% during CAVHD, and 86% during combined dialysis and charcoal haemoperfusion. During combined treatment, the mean extraction rate of haemodialysis was 62%, compared with 48% for charcoal haemoperfusion. In summary, activated charcoal given by mouth may be unable to prevent a rise in blood levels and the development of complications after substantial theophylline overdose. If theophylline is to be removed from the blood, a combination of charcoal haemoperfusion and haemodialysis will give the best clearance, but haemodialysis alone may be effective.