The aims of this study were to compare the cardiovascular risk profiles of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus cared for by general practitioners and those regularly attending a diabetes center. Out of an Italian population-based cohort of 1967 diabetic patients, 1574 (80%) were investigated. Patients exclusively cared for by general practitioners (23.8%) were older and showed lower prevalence of hypertension (79.0% vs 85.9%, P < 0.001), poor blood glucose control (HbA1c >8.0, 33.4% vs 47.9%, P < 0.001) and coronary heart disease (18.1% vs 22.3%, P = 0.003), and lower plasma fibrinogen (3.5 +/- 0.8 vs 3.7 +/- 0.9 g/L, P < 0.001). In logistic regression analysis, they had significantly lower ORs for HbA1c >8.8% (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.45-0.99), hypertension (OR 0.53, 95% CI 0.36-0.78), fibrinogen >4.1 g/L (OR 0.50, 95% CI 0.32-0.77), smoking (OR 0.60, 95% Cl 0.36-1.00), and coronary heart disease (OR 0.65, 95% CI 0.45-0.93), after adjustment for age, sex, duration of diabetes, BMI, and antidiabetic treatment. Patients regularly cared for at a diabetes clinic had a higher cardiovascular risk profile, suggesting selective referral to the clinics of patients with more difficult management and/or severity of the disease. These findings have implications in the interpretation of morbidity and mortality clinic-based studies.