Background: The maximum weight of tissue that a single perforator can perfuse remains an important question in reconstructive microsurgery. An empirically based equation, known as the flap viability index (FVI), has been established to determine what weight of tissue will survive on one or more perforators. The equation is FVI = Sum d(n)^4/W, where d is the internal diameter of each perforator and W is the final weight of the flap. It has been shown that if FVI exceeds 10, total flap survival is likely, but if under 10, partial flap necrosis is probable. The aim of this study was to measure absolute flow rates in deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap pedicles and assess correlation with the determinants of the FVI, perforator diameter and flap weight. Methods: Color Doppler ultrasound was used to quantify arterial flow in 10 consecutive DIEP flap pedicles 24 hours after anastomosis. In single-perforator DIEP flaps, flow rate was highly correlated with perforator diameter (r = 0.82, P = 0.01). Mean arterial flow rate was significantly reduced in DIEP flaps with 2 or more perforators (6 vs 38 cm³/min; P <0.05). Conclusions: This study confirms that perforator size is a critical factor in optimizing blood flow in perforator-based free tissue transfer. Further research is required to understand the flow dynamics of perforator flaps based on multiple perforators. However, surgeons should be cognizant that a single large perforator may have substantially higher flow rates than multiple small perforators. Routine FVI calculation is recommended to ensure complete flap survival.