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Abnormal arterial blood flow patterns have been implicated in the evolution of various vascular disease processes. Intravascular ultrasound techniques using the pulsed wave Doppler catheter offer the opportunity to characterize these abnormal flow patterns. The authors have developed a mathematical model that predicts the first two moments of the Doppler spectrum obtained using a Doppler catheter based on the distribution of ultrasonic beam power and velocity profile of fluid flow with an arbitrary distribution of flow disturbances. A scaled-up, in vitro experimental arterial system was used to confirm the validity of the model. Comparison of the predicted first two moments of the Doppler spectrum to the experimental values in this system demonstrated that the distribution of beam power significantly affects the magnitude of the first two moments. Additionally, both velocity gradient and velocity fluctuation broadening effects play prominent roles in determining the magnitude of the second moment. These phenomena must therefore be considered when evaluating in vivo Doppler spectra used for the characterization of abnormal flow patterns.