Our objective was to provide a description of 'normal' carotid artery dimensions which are increasingly used for detecting early atherosclerosis and predicting clinical complications. Far wall intima-media thickness (IMT), lumen diameter and cross-sectional area intima-media thickness (CSA-IMT) were measured on 1 cm-distal common carotid artery segments on both sides by B-mode ultrasound, using an automated computerized edge-detection program, in 133 men and 216 women aged 17-65 years and free from cardiovascular disease and traditional risk factors. IMT and CSA-IMT increased with age in both sexes and on both sides, while diameter did not, except on the right side in men. Women had lower diameter than men except on the left side at 30 years or below, while IMT did not differ between sexes except on the left side from 31 to 50 years where IMT was higher in men; as a result of their lower diameter, women had lower CSA-IMT than men except on the right side above 50 years. IMT was lower on the right side than on the left side in both sexes, except in 30-year old or younger men and 31- to 40-year old women, while diameter was higher on the right side than on the left side in men and women aged 31-40 years and in women aged 41-50 years; also CSA-IMT was lower on the right side than on the left side in both sexes above 40 years. These data provide reference values of carotid artery dimensions and show that age, sex and side of measurement should be taken into account in the interpretation of 'normal' values of IMT and diameter in clinical practice and trials.