In 154 subjects (age 63 +/- 11 years; 63 women and 91 men) randomly selected from the population, we tested the hypothesis that inflammatory parameters are associated with vascular risk factors and particularly with a history of ischemic vascular diseases. The subjects were part of the control group (n = 197) in a case-control study investigating recent infection as a risk factor for acute cerebrovascular ischemia and had been matched for sex and age with patients suffering from acute ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack. Subjects with malignant or inflammatory diseases, with recent trauma, surgery or vascular diseases (n = 43) were excluded from the present analysis. In multivariate analysis, current smoking, diabetes mellitus, age > or = 65 years, and a history of stroke independently increased the leukocyte count. Hypertriglyceridemia, peripheral arterial disease, and diabetes mellitus were positively associated with C -reactive protein (CRP). Age > or = 65 years and diabetes mellitus independently increased fibrinogen. (p < 0.05, respectively) Subjects with a history of cerebrovascular, cardiovascular or peripheral arterial disease had higher leukocyte counts, fibrinogen and CRP than subjects without vascular risk factors and higher leukocytes and fibrinogen than subjects with one or more risk factors. Subjects under the age of 65 with vascular risk factors but without ischemic diseases had higher leukocyte count, fibrinogen and CRP and subjects older than 65 with risk factors had higher CRP than subjects without risk factors or ischemic diseases in the same age group. (p < 0.05, respectively) These results support the hypotheses that low-grade inflammation is associated with vascular risk factors and that inflammatory mechanisms may contribute to the risk of organ ischemia.