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Year : 2002  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 4 Table of Contents     

Technology-B: Seeing the heart with ultrasound: The revolution goes on!

1 Professor of Cardiology, Head, Department of Cardiology, Thoraxcentre University Hospital Rotterdam, Netherlands
2 Thoraxcentre, Department of Cardiology, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Date of Web Publication22-Jun-2010

Correspondence Address:
J.R T.C Roelandt
Thoraxcentre University Hospital Rotterdam, Dijkzigt P.O. Box 2040/Dr. Molewaterplein 40 3000 CA/3015 GD ROTTERDAM
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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How to cite this article:
Roelandt JT, Bruining N, Bom N. Technology-B: Seeing the heart with ultrasound: The revolution goes on!. Heart Views 2002;3:4

How to cite this URL:
Roelandt JT, Bruining N, Bom N. Technology-B: Seeing the heart with ultrasound: The revolution goes on!. Heart Views [serial online] 2002 [cited 2023 Sep 24];3:4. Available from: https://www.heartviews.org/text.asp?2002/3/1/4/64421

   Introduction Top

Observation and serendipity together with changes in clinical objectives and advances in computer technology have resulted in a variety of amazing cardiac imaging technologies using many different energy forms: X-rays, ultrasound, radioactivity and magnetic resonance. Cardiac ultrasound represents the most important breakthrough for widespread imaging since the introduction of X-rays at the end of the 19th century and its development has closely paralleled advances in computer technology.

Currently available ultrasound systems provide a high imaging performance with an increasing number of modalities allowing a comprehensive assessment of cardiac structure function and hemodynamics with unprecedented versatility [Table 1].

The method is now being used to image the heart at any age from the fetus to the very old and in any situation from mobile services to intraoperative. A definitive diagnosis and quantitative assessment of most cardiac conditions can now be made and minimizing the need for further work-up by invasive testing in many patients. Consequently, cardiac ultrasound has revolutionized the practice of cardiology.

Recently, microprocessor techniques and miniaturization have led to revolutionary advances in cardiac ultrasound which will have a further impact on both its diagnostic potential and its use in clinical practice. Portable lightweight battery-powered systems represent the one end of the spectrum of these developments and these devices can be used just like a standard stethoscope as part of the physical examination at the place-of-care. Real-time three-dimensional echocardiography represents the other end and allows capturing a series of three-dimensional data sets within one cardiac beat.

In this paper we will briefly review the innovative revolutionary developments and their future impact on clinical cardiology.

   Three-dimensional echocardiography Top

Multidimensional anatomy is mentally reassembled from sequential tomographic views. This is a difficult process for complex cardiac structures and pathology of unknown morphology. Computer technology has resulted in presenting three-dimensional depictions of cardiac anatomy as well as physiology by reorganisation of multiple spatially related cross-sectional images into a volumetric dataset. Over the years, several directions have been followed in three-dimensional echocardiography. [1]

Undoubtedly, the most challenging is real-time three-dimensional echocardiography.This method, developed by Von Ramm et al of Duke University, is based on novel matrix phased-array transducer technology and using parallel processing techniques allows to scan a pyramidal volume at once. Real-time three-dimensional echocardiography will find a major application for global ventricular and regional wall function in stress echocardiography and for myocardial perfusion studies using echo contrast agents. With improving image quality, real-time three-dimensional echocardiography will eventually become the standard echocardiographic examination procedure.

At present, most experience with three-dimensional echocardiography is with software controlled mechanical acquisition of a consecutive series of cardiac cross-sectional images using currently available standard transducers and computer assisted "off-line" three-dimensional reconstruction. This approach necessitates the simultaneous registration of the accurate spatial position and timing of the cross-sectional images. Positional information can be obtained with acoustic (spark gap) or magnetic location systems allowing unrestricted (free-hand) scanning from any available precordial acoustic window. Surface rendered or wire-frame reconstructions of selected structures are generated from manually or automatically derived contours in the cross-sectional images. This approach allows improved quantification of left ventricular volumes and mass but provides limited structure information.

Scanning techniques using a predetermined geometric acquisition pattern (linear, fan-like and rotational which is the most commonly used) allow for the recording of closely and evenly spaced cross-sectional images. The rotational acquisition has practical advantages and is performed with either multiplane transesophageal probes or precordial probe assemblies accommodating standard transducers interfaced to standard echocardiographic equipment. [3],[4] Image acquisition is controlled by a software-based steering logic which considers both cardiac and respiratory cycle variation. Volume rendering algorithms are applied and provide grey-scale tissue information in the reconstructions representing a significant advance over surface rendered reconstructions.

Recently, an ultrafast continuously rotating phased-array transducer which allows the acquisition of 16 volumetric data sets per second has been developed at the Thoraxcentre. [5] Standard imaging processing equipment is used for reconstruction and analysis. This "near real-time" or ultrafast approach may become an alternative to real-time volumetric imaging systems in specific clinical conditions and for global and regional myocardial function analysis.

With currently available technology, details of cardiac anatomy and pathology are already well appreciated. "En face" views of cardiac structures are unique for three-dimensional echocardiography. They have been proven valuable in valvular [6],[7] and congenital heart disease [8],[9],[10] by providing a dynamic view of pathology and better insights into what will be found during the surgical procedure [Figure 1],[Figure 2]. This information is already of particular help in reconstructive surgery of mitral valve, for repair of congenital heart defects and device closure of an atrial septal defect [11] [Table 2].

The greatest advantage at present, however, is the possibility of accurate quantitative measurements. The need for making geometric assumptions to calculate ventricular volumes is eliminated by the use of a series of computer generated cross-sections rather than one or two orthogonal planes. [12],[13],[14],[15],[16],[17],[18] Parallel slicing from base to apex through the data set results in equidistant cross-sections at a selected interval (paraplane echocardiography) [Figure 3]. Technology for automated border detection is already available in order to calculate the surface area of these cross-sections. The endocardial contours of a sequence of images obtained with a multiplane (omniplane) precordial transducer can be directly analysed and used for volume calculation without going through the reconstruction process [Figure 4]. Both methods permit the accurate measurement of cardiac chamber volumes, LV mass and other structures such as e.g. mass lesions. Currently, analytic software to measure the regurgitant jet volume from color Doppler flow images is being developed. Clearly, all these possibilities will allow examination of new quantitative parameters which are uniquely three-dimensional (e.g. curvature analysis and wall stress) and will expand the range of clinical questions that can be addressed together with a number of problems solved for improved patient management [Table 3].

Published experience with three-dimensional echocardiography indicates that the basis has been laid for the next phase in the revolution of cardiac ultrasound and that with further refinements the method will become the ultimate diagnostic imaging modality in daily practice.

The availability of data-sets containing all cardiac data offers unique advantages. The display and analysis of size, shape and motion of cardiac structures from any desired perspective becomes possible and allows one to address any clinical question off-line without re-examination of the patient. Unique cardiac cross-sections, difficult or impossible to obtain from standard acoustic windows, can be computed from the data set in any desired plane (anyplane echocardiography) and displayed in cine-loop format. Regions of interest can be extracted from the data set and structures of interest removed from their surroundings for detailed analysis.

In the future, the examination procedure will be less dependent on the skill and experience of the operator as the echocardiographic examinations will be performed with computer controlled transducer systems and standardised for specific cardiac conditions.

Recently, virtual reality has been integrated with cardiac three-dimensional echocardiography. A virtual reality heart model linked to a volumetric data set provides the observer spatial information in difficult cardiac conditions when integrated with the 3-D reconstruction software. [18] Since visualisation of cardiac pathology can be realised from an infinite number of viewpoints, these reconstructions can pose interpretation difficulties for other observers in understanding both the origin and orientation of selected views.

This phenomenon is also referred to as "lost in space" effect. Standardized echocardiographic views can be selected with the virtual reality heart model and can be used as an orientation tool in diagnostic studies and for teaching purposes. Virtual reality is the initial step to automatic 3-D computations with minimal operator interaction. Further developments will include higher dimensional imaging showing phenomena, which are normally invisible in the three-dimensional world. Propagation of the electrical activation of the heart is an example and the computer can create a visual image from this nonvisual information, which only remotely resembles the original structure.

   The ultrasound stethoscope Top

Miniaturisation and digital techniques have resulted in the development of high resolution battery-powered personal imaging devices with excellent grey-scale and colour blood flow imaging capabilities [Figure 5]. These devices are practical to use and allows visualization of the heart and its pathology during the physical examination and to address specific clinical problems anywhere at the point of care. [19],[20]

They are approximately named "ultrasound stethoscopes" since they allow to look inside the chest (stethos = chest and skopein = see). These small personal ultrasound devices should not be confused with the portable desk-top systems which are full featured systems. The ultrasound stethoscope extends the perception of a physical examination by direct "visualising the invisible pathology" and provides information beyond what we can perceive with palpation and auscultation. Murmurs and abnormal precordial movements can be directly related to cardiac structural, functional and flow abnormalities [Figure 6] and [Figure 7]. A cardiac abnormality (pericardial effusion, dilated heart, valvular disease, mass lesion) is rapidly confirmed during a routine physical examination [Table 4]. Often a specific diagnosis is made and incidental and unexpected findings are regularly recognised.

A major strength is that a limited echo/color Doppler examination may allow exclusion of cardiac abnormality with great certainty after limited training. Overall, the use of these devices will strengthen our physical diagnostic accuracy and will add quantitative information.

The diagnosis and follow-up of many cardiac conditions requires only a fraction of the potential of the high-end ultrasound systems and a specific clinical question can often be answered within little time and with little examination protocols. The ultrasound stethoscope is suitable for such a limited "goal-oriented examination" (e.g. resolution of pericardial effusion after pericardicentesis, left ventricular function, left ventricular hypertrophy). These devices can effectively assist in the initial evaluation and rapid diagnosis of potentially life threatening conditions or in situations where quick decision-making is essential (emergent tamponade, low output states, acute valvular pathology, right ventricular involvement and mechanical complications of acute myocardial infarction). [21],[22]

Better indications and more targeted referral for expensive imaging technologies may lead to significant cost savings. Detection or exclusion of regional wall motion abnormalities is a potential that can be utilised in patients with acute chest pain and a non-diagnostic electrocardiogram. Right ventricular involvement in acute myocardial infarction and the mechanical complications are readily diagnosed in the intensive care unit.

The ultrasound stethoscope allows rapid screening for a dilated aorta or occult aortic abdominal aneurysm in patients at risk, [23],[24] for left ventricular hypertrophy in patients with hypertension, [25] early heart failure (asymptomatic LV dysfunction, less than 50% collapse of the inferior vena cava) [Figure 8], [26] mitral valve prolapse [27] and dilated aorta (Marfan's disease).

Obviously, a small ultrasound imager cannot substitute for the high-end ultrasound systems but there is no doubt, however, that these devices will revolutionize the physical cardiac examination [Table 5]. Their use involves compromises some of which are still unknown and will be learned when applications are expanding. Training may become an important issue and should focus on criteria of normalcy and the identification of specific and major cardiac disorders. In the future, advances in communications and software will allow for diagnostic support from experienced laboratories and help to solve training issues.

   Conclusion Top

Three-dimensional echocardiography provides the clinician with more confidence for the diagnosis of cardiac disease and adds insights to the understanding of complex pathology. The availability of a three-dimensional data-set allows the cardiologist to retrieve an infinite number of different views after the examination procedure providing accurate quantitative data together with new functional parameters. Additional information will allow to address new clinical questions. For these reasons, three-dimensional echocardiography will become an essential part of the practice of cardiology. Research must be directed towards identifying those cardiac conditions in which the diagnostic potential of three-dimensional echocardiography is superior or more cost-effective than other imaging methods.

the cardiologist to retrieve an infinite number of different views after the examination procedure providing accurate quantitative data together with new functional parameters. Additional information will allow to address new clinical questions. For these reasons, three-dimensional echocardiography will become an essential part of the practice of cardiology. Research must be directed towards identifying those cardiac conditions in which the diagnostic potential of three-dimensional echocardiography is superior or more cost-effective than other imaging methods.

Small personal imagers will undoubtedly become part of the cardiologist's paraphernalia. Extending our physical senses with seeing the "invisible" cardiac pathology will strengthen our diagnostic accuracy, allow to address specific clinical problems anytime, anywhere leading to a more rapid referral and a more cost-effective use of expensive imaging technologies. Many small devices, even of pocket size, are now being developed and the "echocardiograph in your pocket" will undoubtedly revolutionize the physical cardiac examination and diagnosis.

It should be remembered, however, that the real value of these revolutionary technologies is intimately dependent on our intellectual contribution to realize their optimal clinical impact.

   References Top

1.Roelandt J (ed). Three-dimensional echocardiography of the heart and coronary arteries.Van Zuiden Communications B.V., Alphen a.d. Rijn, 1999.  Back to cited text no. 1      
2.Von Ramm PT, Smith SW. Real time volumetric ultrasound imaging system. J Digit Imaging1990;3:261- 6.  Back to cited text no. 2      
3.Roelandt JRTC, Ten Cate FJ, Vletter WB, Taams MA. Ultrasounic dynamic three-dimensional visualization of the heart with a multiplane transesophageal imaging transducer J Am Soc Echocardiogr 1994;7:217-29.  Back to cited text no. 3      
4.Roelandt J, Salustri A, Mumm B, Vletter W. Precordial three-dimensional echocardiography with a rotational imaging probe: methods and initial clinical experience. Echocardiography 1995;12:243-52.  Back to cited text no. 4      
5.De Jong N, Lancee CT, Roelandt JRTC Ultrafast data acquisition for three-dimensional echocardiography In Roelandt J (ed). Three-dimensional echocardiography of the heart and coronary arteries. Van Zuiden CommunicationsB.V., Alphen a.d. Rijn, 1999:p51-57.  Back to cited text no. 5      
6.Salustri A, Becker AE, Van Herwerden L, Vletter WB, Ten Cate FJ, Roelandt JRTC. Three-dimensional echocardiography of normal and pathologic mitral valve: a comparison with two-dimensional transesophageal echocardiography. J Am Coll Cardiol 1996;27:1502-10.  Back to cited text no. 6      
7.Cheng TO, Xie MX, Wang XF, Li ZA, Hu G. Evaluation of mitral valve prolapse by four-dimensional echocardiography. Am Heart J 1997;133:120-9.  Back to cited text no. 7      
8.Salustri A, Spitaels S, McGhie J, Vletter W, Roelandt JRTC. Transthoracic three-dimensional echocardiography in adult patients with congenital heart disease. J Am Coll Cardiol 1995;26:759-67.  Back to cited text no. 8      
9.Vogel M, Ho SY, Lincoln C, Yacoub MH, Anderson RH.Three-dimensional echocardiography can simulate intraoperative visualization of congenitally malformed heart. Ann Thoracic Surg 1995;60:1282-8.  Back to cited text no. 9      
10.Rivera JM, Siu SC, Handschumacher MD, Lether JP, Guerro JL, Vlahakes GJ, Mitchell JD, Weyman AE, King MEE, Levine RA. Three-dimensional reconstruction of ventricular septal defects: validation studies and in vivo feasibility.J Am Coll Cardiol 1994;23:201-8.  Back to cited text no. 10      
11.Marx G, Fulton DR, Pandian NG, Vogel M, Cao QL, Ludomirski A, Delabays A, Sugeng L, Klas B. Delineation of site, relative size and dynamic geometry of atrial septal defects by real-time three-dimensional echocardiography. J Am Coll Cardiol 1995;25:482-90.  Back to cited text no. 11      
12.Gopal AS, Keller AM, Shen Z, Sapin PM, Schroeder KM, King Jr DL, King DL. Three-dimensional echocardiography: in vitro and in vivo validation of left ventricular mass and comparison with conventional echocardiographic methods. J Am Coll Cardiol 1994;24:504-13.  Back to cited text no. 12      
13.Iwase M, Kondo T, Hasegawa K, Kimura M, Matsuyama H, Watanabe Y, Hishida H. Three-dimensional echocardiography by semi-automated border detection in assessment of left ventricular volume and ejection fraction: comparison with magnetic resonance imaging. J Cardiol 1997;30:97-105.  Back to cited text no. 13      
14.Buck T, Hunold P, Wentz KU, Tkalec W, Nesser JM, Erbel R. Tomographic three-dimensional echocardiographic determination of chamber size and systolic function in patients with left ventricular aneurysm.Circulation 1997;96:286-97.  Back to cited text no. 14      
15.Vogel M, Guberlet M, Dittrich S, Hosten N, Lange PE. Comparison of transthoracic three-dimensional echocardiography with magnetic resonance imaging in the assessment of right ventricular volume and mass. Heart 1997;78:127-30.  Back to cited text no. 15      
16.Altmann K, Shen Z, Boxt LM, King DL, Gersony WM, Allan LD, Apfel HD. Comparison of three-dimensional echocardiographic assessment of volume, mass and function in children with functionally single ventricles with two-dimensional chocardiography and magnetic resonance imaging. Am J Cardiol 1997;80:1060-5.  Back to cited text no. 16      
17.Nosir YFM, Lequin MH, Kasprzak JD, Yao J, Stoker J,Roelandt JRTC. Measurements and day to day variabilities of left ventricular volumes and ejection fraction by three-dimensional echocardiography and comparision with magnetic resonance imaging Am J Cardiol 1998;2:209-214.  Back to cited text no. 17      
18.Bruining N, Berlage T, Grunst G, Alkar HJ, Mumm B, Angelsen B, Komorowski J, Redel DA, Pinto F, Roelandt JRTC. CardiAssist: developing a support platform for 3D ultrasound. In: Computers in cardiology. Indianapolis: IEEE Computer Society Press, 1997:p557-60.  Back to cited text no. 18      
19.Vourvouri EC, De Sutter J, Poldermans D, et al. Experience with an ultrasound stethoscope.J Am Soc Echocardiogr, in press.  Back to cited text no. 19      
20.Roelandt JRTC. A personal ultrasound imager (ultrasound stethoscope) Eur Heart J 2001;in press.  Back to cited text no. 20      
21.Goodkin GM, Spevack DM, Tunick PA, Kronzon I. How useful is hand-carried bedside echocardiography in critically ill patients? J Am Coll Cardiol 2001;37:2019-22.  Back to cited text no. 21      
22.Rozycki GS, Pchsner G, Schmidt JA, et al. A prosepective study of surgeon-performed ultrasound as the primary adjuvant modality for injured patient assessment. J Trauma 1995;492-500.  Back to cited text no. 22      
23.Vourvouri EC, Poldermans D, Schinkel AF, Sozzi FB, Bax JJ, van Urk H, Roelandt JR. Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening using a hand-held ultrasound device. A pilot study. Eur J Vasc Endovasc Surg 2001;22:352-4.  Back to cited text no. 23      
24.Bruce CJ, Spittell PC, Montgomery SC, et al. Personal ultrasound imager: abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. J Am Soc Echocardiogr 2000;13:674-9.  Back to cited text no. 24      
25.Sheps SG, Frohlich ED. Limited echocardiography for hypertensive left ventricular hypertrophy. Hypertension 1997;29:560-3.  Back to cited text no. 25      
26.Lahiri A, Galasko GIW, Senior R. Portable echocardiography - an innovative tool in the assessment of left ventricular dysfunction in the community. Eur. Heart J 2001 (abs supl), iii-vi:706.  Back to cited text no. 26      
27.Kimura BJ, Scott R, Willis CL, DeMaria AN. Accuracy and cost-effectiveness of single-view echocardiographic screening for suspected mitral valve prolapse. Am J Med 2000;108:331-3.  Back to cited text no. 27      


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7], [Figure 8]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]


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