Criteria for the classification of carpal tunnel syndrome for use in epidemiologic studies were developed by means of a consensus process. Twelve medical researchers with experience in conducting epidemiologic studies of carpal tunnel syndrome participated in the process. The group reached agreement on several conceptual issues. First, there is no perfect gold standard for carpal tunnel syndrome. The combination of electrodiagnostic study findings and symptom characteristics will provide the most accurate information for classification of carpal tunnel syndrome. Second, use of only electrodiagnostic study findings is not recommended. Finally, in the absence of electrodiagnostic studies, specific combinations of symptom characteristics and physical examination findings may be useful in some settings but are likely to result in greater misclassification of disease status.