Ultrasound has emerged as the primary imaging modality in conditions where either renal obstruction or renal medical disease is suspected on the basis of clinical and laboratory findings. In urinary tract obstruction, pathophysiologic changes affecting the pressure in the collecting system and kidney perfusion are well understood and form the basis for the correct interpretation of real-time US and color Doppler duplex sonography (CDDS). Ultrasound is very sensitive for the detection of collecting system dilatation ("hydronephrosis"); however, obstruction is not synonymous with dilatation, as either obstructive or nonobstructive dilatation may be present. To differentiate these conditions, CDDS with measurement of the resistive index (RI) in the intrarenal arteries is extremely helpful, as obstruction (except in the peracute stage) leads to intrarenal vasoconstriction with a consecutive increase of the RI above the upper limit of 0.7, whereas nonobstructive dilatation does not. Diuretic challenge to the kidney may further enhance these differences in RI between obstruction and dilatation. Based on these findings, the present value of US and CDDS in the assessment of the patient with flank pain or renal colic is suggested, especially with respect to promising results for spiral CT and based on cost analysis. In renal medical disease, distinguishing different pathologic conditions using gray-scale US and CDDS (RI) criteria is still very difficult. Nevertheless, US is the fist-line imaging modality in the patient with renal insufficiency.