We aimed to obtain reliable data on the epidemiology, co-morbidities and risk factor profile of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) in general medical practise. In the cross-sectional part of the observational German Epidemiological Trial on Ankle Brachial Index (getABI study), 344 general practitioners throughout Germany determined the ABI of consecutive, unselected patients aged 65 years or older with bilateral Doppler ultrasound measurements. Additional assessments comprised patient history with the focus on atherothrombotic diseases, physical examination, and the WHO questionnaire on intermittent claudication. A total of 6880 patients were included (42.0% male, mean age 72.5 years, mean body mass index 27.3 kg/m(2), mean systolic/diastolic blood pressure 143.7/81.3 mmHg). The prevalence of PAD for men/women as indicated by an ankle brachial index (AB1)<0.9 was 19.8/16.8%. Patients with PAD were slightly older than patients without PAD, suffered more frequently from diabetes (36.6 vs. 22.6%; adjusted OR: 1.8), hypertension (78.8 vs. 61.6%; OR: 2.2), lipid disorders (57.2 vs. 50.7%; OR: 1.3) and other coexisting atherothrombotic diseases (any cerebrovascular event: 15.0 vs. 7.6%; OR: 1.8; any cardiovascular event: 28.9 vs. 17.0%; OR: 1.5). The data highlight the high prevalence of PAD in primary care. PAD patients are characterised by a high co-morbidity, particularly with regard to other manifestations of atherothrombosis. Doppler ultrasound measurement for ABI determinations is a non-invasive, inexpensive, reliable tool in primary care and enables GPs to identify patients at risk of PAD.