Traditional risk factors do not adequately explain the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease in patients with chronic renal insufficiency. Currently, there is a lot of evidence that hypomagnesaemia may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular diseases in general population. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that magnesium status in haemodialysis patients is related to the degree of atheromatosis of carotid arteries, as assessed by B-mode ultrasound. Intima-media thickness of both common carotids was assessed by B-mode ultrasound in 93 stable chronic haemodialysis patients and in 182 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. Intracellular magnesium as well as serum magnesium levels were obtained in the haemodialysis patients. Intracellular magnesium was estimated by determination of this ion in isolated peripheral lymphocytes. Haemodialysis patients had also a significantly higher mean common carotid intima-media thickness than controls (0.87+/-0.16 vs 0.76+/-0.13 mm, p < 0.001). Multivariate analysis revealed that in haemodialysis patients both serum magnesium and intracellular magnesium were negatively associated with common carotid intima-media thickness (p = 0.001 and p = 0.003 respectively). Significant associations between the age of the haemodialysis patients, the existence of diabetes mellitus as well as the serum calcium x serum phosphate product with common carotid intima-media thickness of haemodialysis patients were also observed. A strong negative association of both extracellular and intracellular magnesium with common carotid intima-media thickness exists in haemodialysis patients. The above finding suggests that magnesium may play an important protective role in the development and/or acceleration of arterial atherosclerosis in patients with chronic renal insufficiency.