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The ability to image the heart and blood vessels noninvasively has been one of the greatest advances in cardiovascular medicine since the development of the electrocardiogram (ECG). Cardiac imaging complements history taking and physical examination, blood and laboratory testing, and exercise testing in the diagnosis and management of most diseases of the cardiovascular system. Modern cardiovascular imaging consists of echocardiography (cardiac ultrasound), nuclear scintigraphy including positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT). These studies, often used in conjunction with exercise testing, can be used independently or in concert depending on the specific diagnostic needs. In this chapter, we review the principles of each of these modalities and the utility and relative benefits of each for the most common cardiovascular diseases.



Echocardiography uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to penetrate the body, reflect from relevant structures, and generate an image. The basic physical principles of echocardiography are identical to other types of ultrasound imaging, although the hardware and software are optimized for evaluation of cardiac structure and function. Early echocardiography machines displayed “M-mode” echocardiograms in which a single ultrasound beam was displayed over time on a moving sheet of paper (Fig. 236-1), left panel. Modern echocardiographic machinery uses phased array transducers that contain up to 512 elements and emit ultrasound in sequence. The reflected ultrasound is then sensed by the receiving elements. A “scan converter” uses information about the timing and magnitude of the reflected ultrasound to generate an image (Fig. 236-1, right panel). This sequence happens repeatedly in “real time” to generate moving images with frame rates that are typically greater than 30 frames per second, but can exceed 100 frames per second. The gray scale of the image features indicates the intensity of the reflected ultrasound; fluid or blood appears black, and highly reflective structures, such as calcifications on cardiac valves or the pericardium, appear white. Tissues such as myocardium appear more gray, and tissues such as muscle display a unique speckle pattern. Although M-mode echocardiography has largely been supplanted by two-dimensional (2D) echocardiography, it is still used because of its high temporal resolution and accuracy for making linear measurements.

FIGURE 236-1

Principle of image generation in two-dimensional (2D) echocardiography. An electronically steerable phased-array transducer emits ultrasound from piezoelectric elements, and returning echoes are used to generate a 2D image (right) using a scan converter. Early echocardiography machines used a single ultrasound beam to generate an “M-mode” echocardiogram (see text), although modern equipment generates M-mode echocardiograms digitally from the 2D data. LV, left ventricle.

The spatial resolution of ultrasound is dependent on the wavelength: the smaller the wavelength and the higher the frequency of the ultrasound beam, the greater are the ...

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