To investigate magnesium status in patients with cardiovascular diseases and in those presenting high factors for these diseases, we measured the concentrations of serum total Mg, serum ionized Mg and intra-erythrocyte Mg. Mg is an important cofactor for many enzymes, especially those involved in phosphate transfer reactions. Mg deficiency has been shown to be associated with fatal cardiovascular diseases, as well as with risk factors for these diseases. Only measurement of the serum concentration of total Mg is routinely available, but ionized Mg is the physiologically active component. Furthermore, most of the body's Mg is present in the intracellular space. Subjects included patients with ischaemic heart disease (n = 80), cardiac arrhythmia (n = 60), diabetes mellitus (n = 36), essential hypertension (n = 194) and hypercholesterolaemia (n = 60). The same measurements were made in healthy controls (30 men and 26 women; mean age 58±11 years). The serum ionized Mg concentration was measured with a selective ion electrode. The intra-erythrocyte Mg concentration was measured by atomic absorption. No gender difference was found for any Mg parameter, nor was age related to any Mg parameter. The serum albumin concentration was positively correlated only with the serum total Mg concentration. Although the serum total Mg concentration was similar in all groups, patients with diabetes mellitus and arrhythmia had lower serum levels of ionized Mg. Patients with essential hypertension exhibited higher intra-erythrocyte Mg concentrations than the healthy controls. Thus the measurement of serum total Mg concentration may obscure the presence of extracellular Mg deficiency in patients with arrhythmia and diabetes mellitus. Furthermore, the intracellular accumulation of Mg does not support the hypothesis of Mg deficiency in patients with essential hypertension.

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