The atherothrombotic conditions, coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease and peripheral arterial disease (PAD), together account for almost one-half of all deaths in Europe each year; however, perception of the specific risks associated with PAD is generally poor compared with its related conditions. PAD is not just a localised disease — it has serious systemic effects, and affected individuals have a higher risk of serious cardiovascular sequelae or death within 1 year of diagnosis compared with those with coronary artery or cerebrovascular disease. PAD, which currently affects approximately 16% of the general population aged over 55 years, is increasing because of the population aging and the continuing rise in cardiovascular risk factors. The management of PAD is a multi-disciplinary approach, and while this can have its advantages, it can also mean that responsibility for patient care is unclear. Globally, almost one-third of all patients with PAD are under internist care. Internists are ideally placed to identify patients at risk of PAD and initiate prompt risk factor management because of their role in the continued care of elderly patients and those with diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, and chronic renal disease. Multi-disciplinary guidelines for the clinical management of PAD, based on consensus among international specialists in a number of fields, have been developed to create an informed, unified and proactive approach to the treatment of PAD. They stress the continuity of care, the use of office-based ankle–brachial index testing to aid early diagnosis, and prompt and aggressive risk factor management.