Of 732 consecutive patients admitted to an acute geriatric ward, 178 (24%) were found to be anaemic (haemoglobin of 115 g/l or below). An appropriate cause responsible for anaemia was identified in 83%. The anaemia of chronic disorders (ACD) (35%) and iron deficiency anaemia (15%) were the commonest causes. The spectrum of disorders associated with ACD is much broader than the classical category of infectious, inflammatory and malignant disorders. The relatively high prevalence of the myelodysplastic syndrome (5%) is striking and this syndrome as a cause of anaemia in geriatric patients deserves more attention than it has so far received. No obvious cause was found in 17%. The clinical significance of this finding remains unclear.