Diabetic and sickle retinopathy have features in common--for example, venous dilatation, microaneurysms, and capillary closure preceding neovascularisation. Bearing in mind that haemoglobin in poorly controlled diabetes is abnormal and that extremely low oxygen tensions (known to cause sickling) exist in the healthy cat retina, we wished to explore the possibility that diabetic blood, like that of sickle cell disease, may become more viscous when deoxygenated. To do this we measured whole blood viscosity, under oxygenated and deoxygenated conditions, of 23 normal persons, 23 diabetic patients without retinopathy, and 34 diabetic patients with retinopathy. The shear rate used was 230 s-1, which is similar to that thought to prevail in the major retinal veins. The viscosity of blood from normal persons, corrected for packed cell volume, did not change significantly on deoxygenation: mean 4.54 (SD 0.38) cps, versus, 4.57 (0.39) paired t test, p = 0.66. Similarly the blood from diabetics without retinopathy showed no change: 4.42 (0.45) versus 4.42 (0.30), p = 0.98; whereas the blood from patients with retinopathy changed from 4.82 (0.48) to 4.95 (0.63), p = 0.027. The hypoxic viscosity ratio (deoxygenated divided by oxygenated viscosity) correlated with total serum cholesterol (r = 0.44, p = 0.018) but not with HbA1, serum glucose, triglycerides, or age. A disproportionate increase in venous viscosity relative to arterial viscosity would lead to increased intraluminal and transmural pressure and therefore exacerbate leakage across capillary walls.