Intima-media thickness (IMT) is increasingly used in clinical trials as a surrogate end point for determining the success of interventions that lower risk factors for atherosclerosis. The necessity for unified criteria to distinguish early atherosclerotic plaque formation from thickening of IMT and to standardize IMT measurements is addressed in this consensus statement. Plaque is defined as a focal structure that encroaches into the arterial lumen of at least 0.5 mm or 50% of the surrounding IMT value or demonstrates a thickness of > or =1.5 mm as measured from the media-adventitia interface to the intima-lumen interface. Standard use of IMT measurements is recommended in all epidemiological and interventional trials dealing with vascular diseases to improve characterization of the population investigated. The consensus concludes that there is no need to 'treat IMT values' nor to monitor IMT values in individual patients apart from few exceptions. Although IMT has been suggested to represent an important risk marker, it does not fulfill the characteristics of an accepted risk factor. Standardized methods recommended in this consensus statement will foster homogenous data collection and analysis. This will help to improve the power of studies incorporating IMT measurements and to facilitate the merging of large databases for meta-analyses.