Five long-term hemodialysis patients with clinical iron overload were treated with 300 U/kg of recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) intravenously (IV) after each hemodialysis. The patients were phlebotomized after each hemodialysis at any time the predialysis hematocrit was 35% or greater. Over a period of 1 year, the average phlebotomy rate varied from 0.5 to 1.1 U/wk with a mean phlebotomy rate of 45.8 +/- 5.6 U/yr (range, 27 to 57 U). The mean serum ferritin decreased from 8,412 +/- 1,599 micrograms/L (ng/mL) to 3,007 +/- 1,129 micrograms/L (ng/mL), and the mean iron removal over this period was 9.5 g. Liver iron deposition, as measured by density on computed tomographic (CT) scan, improved, while skin color lightened significantly. Patients tolerated phlebotomy with no major symptoms or complications and exhibited no change in the hemogram or serum chemistries. In patients with severe iron overload, changes in serum ferritin with erythropoietin treatment alone may not reflect true change in iron burden. Use of high-dose erythropoietin and phlebotomy is an effective and safe (at least for 1 year) method of reducing iron overload in long-term hemodialysis patients.