To ascertain the potential contribution of serum lipids to the development of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a case-control study was conducted in 143 DVT patients lacking thrombophilic risk factors and in 194 age- and sex-matched controls. DVT patients showed significantly higher body mass indices (BMI), and triglyceride levels than did controls (P < 0.001 and P = 0.045 respectively). Using multivariate analysis, BMI was the only variable which remained statistically different, thus the risk of DVT was associated with obesity (odds ratio = 2.49). These results were confirmed when additional control for fibrinogen and plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1) was carried out in a subgroup of cases and controls. When idiopathic (n = 39) and secondary (n = 104) patients with DVT were compared, the former showed a higher mean age, a higher proportion of men, and higher cholesterol levels. Age, sex and total cholesterol were statistically different by multivariate analysis. After age was dichotomized as >or= 50 years and cholesterol >or= 5.69 mmol/l, all three variables constituted independent risk factors for idiopathic DVT, with odds ratios of 2.73 for ages >or= 50 years; 3.72 for men and 2.67 for cholesterolaemia >or= 5.69 mmol/l. Obesity thus constitutes an independent risk factor for DVT, possibly in part mediated through triglyceride, fibrinogen and PAI-1 effects on haemostasis. In addition, cholesterolaemia levels of >or= 5.69 mmol/l constitute an independent risk factor for idiopathic DVT.