Carotid sonography is being performed on more than 5,000 participants in the Cardiovascular Health Study, a prospective, multicenter study of cardiovascular disease in men and women aged 65 years and older. The sonographic methods used to examine and measure the extracranial carotid arteries are described. Initial validation studies were performed on 61 subjects with a mean age of 68.6 years. Analysis of within- and between-sonographer differences and between-reader differences were performed for selected variables. In general, the mean absolute differences for within- and between-sonographer comparisons were small, with even less variability between readers. Variability was less for the common carotid artery than for the internal carotid artery. These data suggest that carotid sonography is a reliable and reproducible method for use in the study of carotid atherosclerosis in population studies.