To assess visual interpretation of the coronary arteriogram as a means of predicting the physiologic effects of coronary obstructions in human beings, we compared caliper measurements of the degree of coronary stenosis with the reactive hyperemic response of coronary flow velocity studied with a Doppler technique at operation, after 20 seconds of coronary arterial occlusion. In 39 patients (44 vessels) with isolated, discrete coronary lesions varying in severity from 10 to 95 per cent stenosis, measurement of the percentage of stenosis from coronary angiograms was not significantly correlated (r = -0.25) with the reactive hyperemic response. Results were the same for obstructions in the left anterior descending, diagonal, and right coronary arteries. Underestimation of lesion severity occurred in 95 per cent of vessels with greater than 60 per cent stenosis of the diameter by arteriography. Both overestimation and underestimation of lesions with less than 60 per cent stenosis were common. These results, together with the high interobserver and intraobserver variability of standard visual analysis of angiograms, suggest that the physiologic effects of the majority of coronary obstructions cannot be determined accurately by conventional angiographic approaches. The need for improved analytical methods for the physiologic assessment of angiographically detected coronary obstructions is apparent.