The purpose of this study was to assess the effect of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease on the process of subclinical atherosclerosis in originally borderline hypertensives. The relation of far wall common carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT CCA) measured by B-mode ultrasound to smoking, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, lipids, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) gene polymorphism was analyzed. In 48 subjects examined (mean age, 61.9 +/- 2.54 years), median IMT CCA was 0.708 mm. Statistically significant differences in BMI (26.5 vs. 29.2 kg/m2, p < 0.025) and HDL-cholesterol level (1.42 vs. 1.1 mmol/l, p < 0.025) between the first and third tertile of IMT CCA were found. No differences were observed between "controls" and "cases" in blood pressure, total cholesterol, and triacylglycerols. No significant differences in IMT CCA were found between smokers and nonsmokers and among different alleles of the ACE gene. These data reflect the importance of HDL-cholesterol and BMI on the process of atherosclerosis within an otherwise homogeneous group of patients.