How to Obtain Focused Cardiac Ultrasound Images

My first exposure to handheld ultrasound was as a first-year medical student. I was assigned to a cardiology clinic with an attending that pioneered handheld ultrasound examinations. Watching him move from patient to patient and use ultrasound to simultaneously diagnose and teach inspired me to learn how to use ultrasound and incorporate it into my practice.

cardiac_pic2

Parasternal long axis demonstrating a dilated left ventricle.

As a budding cardiologist, examining and triaging patients with handheld ultrasound is a part of my daily work. Although handheld ultrasound and the stethoscope differ vastly in their technology, at the bedside, both are limited by the user’s interpretation of the examination findings. I have found when using handheld ultrasound, as with the stethoscope, perhaps the most important tool is “between the ears.”

The “Introduction to Focused Cardiac Ultrasound” set of lectures provide an overview to focused cardiac ultrasound views and a guide to obtain them. The main goal is to develop an understanding of the scope of focused cardiac ultrasound and to “get the heart on the screen” when scanning. The first lecture focuses on the parasternal long axis and subcostal views of the heart. In practice these views will often be the most helpful and accessible. The second lecture reviews the parasternal and subcostal views and introduces the apical views of the heart. Each lecture includes sample diagnoses.

My rationale for reviewing all the basic views of the heart is to provide a broad survey of all the windows and probe orientations. When a formal cardiac echo is ordered, these are the views and windows obtained by the sonographer. In practice with handheld ultrasound, one or two of these views can be utilized to answer the question at hand. Based on patient positioning and body habitus, however, certain windows may provide a better view of the heart.

My hope in sharing all the views in the second lecture is to not overwhelm the learner but rather provide a strong foundation in understanding the anatomical relationships of the ventricles and atria in the body and see how one window builds off the next. The views in this lecture are directly applicable to structured bedside ultrasound examinations, such as the “CLUE examination.”

At our home institution, we utilize these lectures in a continuously rolling small-group lecture series for our medical students and house staff. The cardiology fellow leads the lecture and the hands-on scanning portion, rotating every third week on the step-down cardiology unit. Overall the feedback has been positive with many of the trainees spreading the skills to other rotations. We are happy to share this resource and welcome feedback.

What resources are invaluable to you? What tools do you use to continually learn? Where do you find the information you need? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Colin Phillips, MD, is Fellow, Division of Cardiovascular Disease at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.