Lymphoedema, a condition of localized fluid retention, results from a compromised lymphatic system. Although one common cause in the tropics is infection with filarial worms, non-filarial lymphoedema, also known as podoconiosis, has been reported among barefoot farmers in volcanic highland zones of Africa, Central and South America and north-western India. There are conflicting reports on the causes of lymphoedema in the highland regions of Cameroon, where the condition is of great public-health importance. To characterise the focus of lymphoedema in the highlands of the North West province of Cameroon and investigate its real causes, a cross-sectional study was carried out on the adults (aged > or =15 years) living in the communities that fall within the Ndop and Tubah health districts. The subjects, who had to have lived in the study area for at least 10 years, were interviewed, examined clinically, and, when possible, checked for microfilaraemia. The cases of lymphoedema confirmed by ultrasonography and a random sample of the other subjects were also tested for filarial antigenaemia. The interviews, which explored knowledge, attitudes and perceptions (KAP) relating to lymphoedema, revealed that the condition was well known, with each study community having a local name for it. Of the 834 individuals examined clinically, 66 (8.1%) had lymphoedema of the lower limb, with all the clinical stages of this condition represented. None of the 792 individuals examined parasitologically, however, had microfilariae of W. bancrofti (or any other filarial parasite) in their peripheral blood, and only one (0.25%) of the 399 individuals tested for the circulating antigens of W. bancrofti gave a positive result. In addition, none of the 504 mosquitoes caught landing on human bait in the study area and dissected was found to harbour any stage of W. bancrofti. These findings indicate that the elephantiasis seen in the North West province of Cameroon is of non-filarial origin.