We investigated the cross-sectional association between peripheral arterial disease and glycaemic level in an age, sex, and glucose tolerance stratified random sample from a 50-74-year-old Caucasian population. Subjects treated with oral hypoglycaemic agents or insulin were classified as having known diabetes mellitus (KDM) (n = 67). Using two oral glucose tolerance tests, and based on World Health Organisation criteria, all other participants were categorized as having a normal (NGT) (n = 288), an impaired (IGT) (n = 170), or a diabetic (NDM) (n = 106) glucose tolerance. Prevalence rates of ankle-brachial pressure index less than 0.90 were 7.0%, 9.5%, 15.1% and 20.9% in NGT, IGT, NDM and KDM subjects, respectively (chi-square test for linear trend: p < 0.01). Prevalence rates of any peripheral arterial disease (ankle-brachial pressure index < 0.90, at least one monophasic or absent Doppler flow curve or vascular surgery) were 18.1%, 22.4%, 29.2% and 41.8% in these categories (chi-square test for linear trend: p < 0.0001). The prevalence of any peripheral arterial disease was higher in KDM and NDM than in NGT (p < 0.03, p < 0.0001, respectively), whereas no statistically significant difference was demonstrated between IGT and NGT. The same applied when using the ankle-brachial pressure index criterion. Logistic regression analyses showed that any arterial disease was significantly associated with HbA1c, fasting and 2-h post-load plasma glucose after correction for cardiovascular risk factors (odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals 1.35; 1.10-1.65 per %, 1.20; 1.06-1.36 and 1.06; 1.01-1.12 per mmol/l, respectively), whereas it was not associated with fasting and 2-h post-load specific insulin. Ankle-brachial pressure indices were not associated with either plasma glucose parameters or insulin in univariate or multivariate analyses. In conclusion, parameters of glucose tolerance are independently associated with any peripheral arterial disease, whereas insulin is not.