The aim of this study was to determine whether the intrarenal resistive index (RI) can be used for the diagnosis of acute obstruction in patients with renal colic and to determine whether the index is time-related. Seventy patients referred to the Emergency Department with acute renal colic and without known associated renal disease underwent duplex Doppler ultrasonography to determine the intrarenal RI at the symptomatic and asymptomatic side. The age range of the patients was 18-72 years. An RI greater than 0.68 and/or an interrenal difference in RI greater than 0.06 and/or an increase in RI of more than 11% compared with the normal side proved reliable cut-off values to diagnose acute renal obstruction. In addition, time dependency of the increase in RI was noted. No significant differences were observed within the first 6 h after the onset of symptoms. From 6 to 48 h, however, the mean RI in the affected kidney (0.70 +/- 0.06; mean +/- SD) was significantly different from that in the normal kidney (0.59 +/- 0.04) (P < 0.001). In the same period the mean difference in RI was 0.08-0.13 (P < 0.001). After 48 h the sensitivity of RI dropped substantially. It is concluded that renal duplex Doppler ultrasonography is useful for diagnosing acute renal obstruction between 6 and 48 h after the onset of symptoms.