Determination of the reticulocyte hemoglobin content (CHr) provides an early measure of functional iron deficiency because reticulocytes are the earliest erythrocytes released into blood and circulate for only 1 to 2 days. The CHr in 78 patients undergoing bone marrow examination was measured to assess its clinical utility for the diagnosis of iron deficiency. Twenty-eight patients were iron deficient, based on the lack of stainable iron in the aspirate. The diagnostic power of CHr is limited in patients with high mean cellular volume (MCV) or red cell disorders such as thalassemia. However, when patients with MCV more than 100 fL are excluded, receiver operator curve analysis of CHr, ferritin, transferrin saturation, and MCV demonstrates that CHr has the highest overall sensitivity and specificity of these peripheral blood tests for predicting the absence of bone marrow iron stores.