Near infrared spectroscopy is a non-invasive method for continuous monitoring of tissue oxygenation. In 11 patients undergoing unilateral carotid endarterectomy, changes in cerebral oxygenation following carotid cross-clamping and declamping detected by a near infrared spectrometer were compared with corresponding changes in ipsilateral middle cerebral artery flow velocity measured by transcranial Doppler ultrasonography. Spectroscopic traces were obtained in all patients but adequate Doppler signals in only eight. Changes in cerebral haemoglobin oxygenation correlated closely (r = 0.908, p < 0.001) with changes in middle cerebral artery velocity. The near infrared spectrometer was also sensitive to the changes in cerebral haemodynamics due to intraoperative hypo- and hypertensive episodes. No evidence of cerebral intracellular hypoxia was seen and all patients made an uneventful recovery. Near infrared spectroscopy compares well with transcranial Doppler ultrasound as a monitor of cerebral function during carotid endarterectomy and may have a future role in the elucidation of cerebral perfusion and oxygenation changes following surgery.