We have assessed in normal subjects the validity of using hand heating to obtain "arterialized" venous blood by biochemical comparison of results for "arterialized" venous and true arterial (radial artery) blood samples. The heating regimen involved placing one hand in an air-heated box at 45-50 degrees C for 45 min. This method produced blood that was "arterialized" for lactate, PCO2, HbO2, and Hb but not for ammonia or PO2; it had no effect on determinations of pyruvate or glucose in plasma. Despite using a lower air temperature than previous workers, we observed thermal injury in one volunteer. Further, there was considerable between-subject variation in the effect of hand heating on blood gases. This suggests that blood gases should be measured in the "arterialized" samples at regular intervals from the start of hand heating in each patient to determine whether maximal "arterialization" has been achieved, to avoid making misleading biochemical measurements. Given the wide range in degree of observed "arterialization," we question the validity of this method.