[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Whole blood is a non-Newtonian fluid, which means that its viscosity depends on shear rate. At low shear, blood cells aggregate, which induces a sharp increase in viscosity, whereas at higher shear blood cells disaggregate, deform and align in the direction of flow. Other important determinants of blood viscosity are the haematocrit, the presence of macro-molecules in the medium, temperature and, especially at high shear, the deformability of red blood cells. At the sites of severe atherosclerotic obstructions or at vasospastic locations, when change of vessel diameter is limited, blood viscosity contributes to stenotic resistance thereby jeopardising tissue perfusion. However, blood viscosity plays its most important role in the microcirculation where it contributes significantly to peripheral resistance and may cause sludging in the postcapillary venules. Apart from the direct haemodynamic significance, an increase in blood viscosity at low shear by red blood cell aggregation is also associated with increased thrombotic risk, as has been demonstrated in atrial fibrillation. Furthermore, as increased red blood cell aggregation is a reflection of inflammation, hyperviscosity has been shown to be a marker of inflammatory activity. Thus, because of its potential role in haemodynamics, thrombosis and inflammation, determination of whole blood viscosity could provide useful information for diagnostics and therapy of (cardio)vascular disease.