In 500 healthy individuals cell deformability, expressed as cell filtration rate in microliters/s was studied with a microcirculation method in order to determine reference values for this method for various age groups in adults. The overall normal red cell filtration rate (RFR) value in healthy individuals was 69 +/- 11 microliters/s. When one compared the age groups 20-29 and 60-69 years, the reductions for RFR, white cell filtration rate (WFR), plasma-white cell filtration rate (P-WFR) and whole-blood filtration RATE (WBFR) was 26 +/- 3 (p less than 0.01), 32% +/- 5 (p less than 0.01), 28% +/- 4 (p less than 0.01) and 28% +/- (p less than 0.01) respectively. The reduction of RFR was graded into four clinical classes (GCTA = Gothenburg Cardio-Thoracic Association); I = 1-24%, II = 25-49%, III = 50-74%, IV = 75-100%, class I with lowest and class IV with highest reductions. Significant reductions in the mean RFR were noted in patients undergoing heart surgery (36% +/- 3, P less than 0.01, class II), patients with cardiac arrest (55% +/- 5, p less than 0.01, class III), occlusive arterial disease (58% +/- 6, p less than 0.001, class III) diabetes (45% +/- 5, p less than 0.01, class II). None of the patients had a normal RFR value. This study demonstrated a loss of cell deformability with age and disease.