Background Metabolic syndrome (MetS) has been related to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Different criteria for diagnosis of MetS have been recommended, but there is no agreement about which criteria are best to use. The aim of the present study was to investigate agreement between the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, American Heart Association (NHLBI/AHA) and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) definitions of MetS in patients with symptomatic carotid disease and to compare the frequency of cardiovascular risk factor in patients with MetS diagnosed by these two sets of criteria. Methods The study was a cross-sectional one involving 644 consecutive patients with verified carotid disease who referred to the Vascular Surgery Clinic Dedinje in Belgrade during the period April 2006 - November 2007. Anthropometric parameters blood pressure, fasting plasma glucose and lipoproteins were measured using standard procedures. Results MetS was present in 67.9% of participants, according to IDF criteria, and in 64.9% of participants, according to the NHLBI/AHA criteria. A total of 119 patients were categorized differently by the two definitions. Out of all participants 10.7% had MetS by IDF criteria only and 7.8% of patients had MetS by NHLBI/AHA criteria only. The overall agreement of IDF and NHLBI/AHA criteria was 81.5% (Kappa 0.59, p < 0.001). In comparison with patients who met only IDF criteria, patients who met only NHLBI/AHA criteria had significantly more frequently cardiovascular risk factors with the exception of obesity which was significantly more frequent in patients with MetS diagnosed by IDF criteria. Conclusion The MetS prevalence in patients with symptomatic carotid disease was high regardless of criteria used for its diagnosis. Since some patients with known cardiovascular risk factors were lost by the use of IDF criteria it seems that NHLBI/AHA definition is more suitable for diagnosis of MetS. Large follow-up studies are needed to test prognostic value of these definitions.