We retrospectively reviewed the routine spin-echo MR studies of the brain in 12 patients with 13 angiographically demonstrated occlusions and in 14 patients with 16 high-grade stenoses of the carotid arteries. Intraluminal signal that was isointense with adjacent brain on long TR/short TE and long TR/long TE images was 100% specific for atherosclerotic occlusion. Of the 13 proved occlusions, six (46%) had significant degrees of hyperintense intraluminal signal indistinguishable from that observed consequent to slow flow distal to high-grade stenoses. MR detected only five (31%) of the 16 proved high-grade stenoses. Normal flow void does not exclude significant extracranial carotid stenosis. Occlusion cannot always be distinguished from high-grade stenosis when hyperintense intraluminal signal is encountered. However, a reliable diagnosis of atherosclerotic occlusion can be made when isointense intraluminal signal is observed.