A prospective, double-blind comparison of color duplex sonography with angiography was performed for diagnosing renal artery stenosis in 50 kidneys in 26 patients. The major criterion for diagnosing a diameter narrowing of more than 50% was a velocity of greater than 100 cm/sec. Angiography demonstrated 10 stenoses and one occlusion in main or accessory renal arteries in seven patients. Twenty-two percent of kidneys had accessory renal arteries. Color duplex scanning helped identify 58% of the main arteries and no accessory vessels. None of the stenotic vessels were identified with duplex scanning, but the single occluded vessel was correctly diagnosed. Nine of the 29 vessels identified with duplex scanning were incorrectly diagnosed as stenotic, findings yielding a specificity of 37%. The authors conclude that the published velocity threshold of 100 cm/sec is too low. Duplex scanning with current technology is unlikely to prove satisfactory for screening patients with hypertension for renal artery stenosis.