Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a manifestation of systemic atherosclerosis that is common and is associated with an increased risk of death and ischemic events, yet may be underdiagnosed in primary care practice. To assess the feasibility of detecting PAD in primary care clinics, patient and physician awareness of PAD, and intensity of risk factor treatment and use of antiplatelet therapies in primary care clinics. The PAD Awareness, Risk, and Treatment: New Resources for Survival (PARTNERS) program, a multicenter, cross-sectional study conducted at 27 sites in 25 cities and 350 primary care practices throughout the United States in June-October 1999. A total of 6979 patients aged 70 years or older or aged 50 through 69 years with history of cigarette smoking or diabetes were evaluated by history and by measurement of the ankle-brachial index (ABI). PAD was considered present if the ABI was 0.90 or less, if it was documented in the medical record, or if there was a history of limb revascularization. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) was defined as a history of atherosclerotic coronary, cerebral, or abdominal aortic aneurysmal disease. Frequency of detection of PAD; physician and patient awareness of PAD diagnosis; treatment intensity in PAD patients compared with treatment of other forms of CVD and with patients without clinical evidence of atherosclerosis. PAD was detected in 1865 patients (29%); 825 of these (44%) had PAD only, without evidence of CVD. Overall, 13% had PAD only, 16% had PAD and CVD, 24% had CVD only, and 47% had neither PAD nor CVD (the reference group). There were 457 patients (55%) with newly diagnosed PAD only and 366 (35%) with PAD and CVD who were newly diagnosed during the survey. Eighty-three percent of patients with prior PAD were aware of their diagnosis, but only 49% of physicians were aware of this diagnosis. Among patients with PAD, classic claudication was distinctly uncommon (11%). Patients with PAD had similar atherosclerosis risk factor profiles compared with those who had CVD. Smoking behavior was more frequently treated in patients with new (53%) and prior PAD (51%) only than in those with CVD only (35%; P <.001). Hypertension was treated less frequently in new (84%) and prior PAD (88%) only vs CVD only (95%; P <.001) and hyperlipidemia was treated less frequently in new (44%) and prior PAD (56%) only vs CVD only (73%, P<.001). Antiplatelet medications were prescribed less often in patients with new (33%) and prior PAD (54%) only vs CVD only (71%, P<.001). Treatment intensity for diabetes and use of hormone replacement therapy in women were similar across all groups. Prevalence of PAD in primary care practices is high, yet physician awareness of the PAD diagnosis is relatively low. A simple ABI measurement identified a large number of patients with previously unrecognized PAD. Atherosclerosis risk factors were very prevalent in PAD patients, but these patients received less intensive treatment for lipid disorders and hypertension and were prescribed antiplatelet therapy less frequently than were patients with CVD. These results demonstrate that underdiagnosis of PAD in primary care practice may be a barrier to effective secondary prevention of the high ischemic cardiovascular risk associated with PAD.