Understanding Ultrasounds: Cardiac and Vascular Applications

Ultrasound Systems, Understanding Ultrasounds - Fri Oct 05 2018


Part of our “Understanding Ultrasounds” series includes understanding and discussing various ultrasound applications, what they are used to diagnose, probes that specialize in these applications, and which are the best ultrasound machines to employ – whether it be for a specialist or general diagnostician. This particular article will focus on Cardiac and Vascular imaging – commonly referred to as Cardio-Vascular applications.


Cardiac Ultrasound Application: 


Cardiac ultrasound application is used to examine patients’ heart, heart structure, blood flow, and more. Examining blood flow coming to and from the heart and inspecting heart structure to detect any potential damage or blocks are just a few common reasons why one would wish to get a cardiac ultrasound. There are a variety of ultrasound transducers that specialize in projecting cardiac images, as well as ultrasound machines that specialize in high definition, 2D/3D/4D, and intricate cardiac images.


Cardiac Definition:

By definition, cardiac ultrasound is employing ultrasound machines and ultrasound probes / transducers to project images of one’s heart and the blood flowing to and from the heart. If one has a clogged artery, is experiencing a heart attack, has some sort of clot or blockage, or suspects that he or she suffered from structural damage – a cardiac ultrasound will tell you all that you need to know.


There are different types and qualities of cardiac ultrasound images. For example, Color Doppler images will reveal how quickly or slowly one’s blood is flowing, whether blood is flowing towards or away from the heart, and if there are any obstructions preventing blood from flowing where it should be. Another example is the ability to examine a regular 2D ultrasound image of one’s heart structure. If one requires a more elaborate or detailed image, a 3D/4D ultrasound image can be taken of the heart.


Cardiac Probes:

There are literally hundreds of various cardiac ultrasound probes. Rather than discuss individual probes and transducers, it is more important to discuss what type of probes specialize in cardiac applications.


Vector array, sector array and phased array are all names of ultrasound probes that specialize in cardiac applications. These ultrasound transducers and probes generally have a very low frequency range. The telltale sign of a phased array transducer will generally be the square shaped lens that is on the face of the probe. For adults and young adults, most probes will have anywhere between 1 – 6 MHz. frequency range. For pediatrics and fetal cardiac images, a 4 – 10 MHz. frequency range is more common.


Cardiac Ultrasound Machines:

Some of the most popular ultrasound machines, both portable and stationary, are either capable of producing cardiac images, or specialize in it. For Philips, the iE33 and Epiq 7 ultrasound machines specializes specifically in cardiac applications. The iU22 and HD15, on the other hand, are shared service machines that are still capable of producing exceptional cardiac images. The GE Vivid ultrasound series, including the Vivid Q portable ultrasound machine and Vivid E9 stationary machine, are prominent among Cardiologists for their intricate and advanced images. Other notable machines include Esaote Biosound MyLab 40, Sonosite Edge II and the Mindray DC-7ultrasound machines.


Epiq 7

Philips Epiq 7 Ultrasound Machine

Vascular Ultrasound Application:



Vascular ultrasound applications are used to examine veins, blood flow and arteries in any part of our bodies; arms, legs, heart or throat are just a few parts that can be inspected. Most ultrasound machines that specialize in cardiac applications also specialize in vascular applications as well (hence the term Cardio-Vascular). Vascular ultrasounds are generally used to diagnose blood clots, clogged arteries, or any abnormalities in blood flow.

Vascular Ultrasound Definition:


The actual definition of vascular ultrasound is projecting images of blood flow and the general circulatory system. This examination is not limited to any particular body part, obviously, as blood is constantly flowing through the entire body. Vascular images taken of the brain are referred to as TCD or transcranial doppler. Doppler imaging and vascular imaging are similar in the sense that they both are used to project images of blood flow, or a lack thereof.

L8-18i linear array probe
GE L8-18i Hockey Stick Array Linear ultrasound probe

Vascular Probes:

There are a few types of ultrasound probes / transducers that specialize in vascular applications.


Linear array probes, which generally have a higher frequency range (6-12, 6-14, 7-15 etc.). The higher the range, the less penetration. Due to the fact that veins are generally more superficial, and closer to the skin surface, these probes do not require lower frequency ranges (as opposed to our cardiac probes that need to penetrate further and therefore have much lower frequency ranges). Linear probes are generally identifiable by the long thin horizontal lens on the face of the probe.

Hockey Stick Array / intraoperative probes are the other types of probes that are nearly always capable of producing vascular ultrasound images. Just as their name suggests, the probe is engineered to look like a hockey stick. But, like the other linear probes, the lens is a narrow, straight, horizontal line.

**Pencil / CW (Continuous Wave) probes are not technically vascular probes. These probes are commonly referred to as “blind” probes because they don’t project any actual images of structures. Rather, they are always used in doppler settings to project blood flow. Because the nature of vascular probes is to detect blood flow, Pencil / CW probes can be categorized as vascular transducers as well.


Vascular Ultrasound Machines:

As mentioned earlier, many used ultrasound machines that specialize in cardiac applications also specialize in vascular applications. Some of the most popular systems that A.M.E. Ultrasounds would recommend based on price, technological capabilities, and popularity include the Philips IE33, GE Vivid E95, and the Sonosite M-Turbo portable ultrasound machine. Other noteworthy systems include the Siemens Acuson S2000 ultrasound machine, and the GE Venue 40 portable ultrasound machine. Although there are both portable and stationary ultrasound machines that specialize in vascular applications, most of the time the stationary systems are capable of producing more advanced images.

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