BACKGROUND: Non-invasive assessment of arterial pressure wave forms using applanation tonometry of the radial or carotid arteries can be technically challenging and has not found wide clinical application. 2D imaging of the common carotid arteries is routinely used and we sought to determine whether arterial waveform measurements could be derived from tissue Doppler imaging (TDI) of the carotid artery. METHODS: We studied 91 subjects (52 men, age 52 +/- 14 years) with and without cardiovascular disease. Tonometry was performed on the carotid artery simultaneously with pulsed wave Doppler of the LVOT and acquired digitally. Longitudinal 2D images of the common carotid artery with and without TDI were also acquired digitally and both TDI and tonometry were calibrated using mean and diastolic cuff pressure and analysed off line. RESULTS: Correlation between central pressure by TDI and tonometry was excellent for maximum pressure (r = 0.97, p < 0.0001). The mean differences between central pressures derived by TDI and tonometry were minimal (systolic 5.36 +/- 5.5 mmHg; diastolic 1.2 +/- 1.2 mmHg). CONCLUSION: Imaging of the common carotid artery motion with tissue Doppler may permit acquisition of a waveform analogous to that from tonometry. This method may simplify estimation of central arterial pressure and calculation of total arterial compliance.