JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Ten good reasons to practice ultrasound in critical care

Daniel Lichtenstein, Simon van Hooland, Paul Elbers, Manu L N G Malbrain
Anaesthesiology Intensive Therapy 2014, 46 (5): 323-35
25432552
Over the past decade, critical care ultrasound has gained its place in the armamentarium of monitoring tools. A greater understanding of lung, abdominal, and vascular ultrasound plus easier access to portable machines have revolutionised the bedside assessment of our ICU patients. Because ultrasound is not only a diagnostic test, but can also be seen as a component of the physical exam, it has the potential to become the stethoscope of the 21st century. Critical care ultrasound is a combination of simple protocols, with lung ultrasound being a basic application, allowing assessment of urgent diagnoses in combination with therapeutic decisions. The LUCI (Lung Ultrasound in the Critically Ill) consists of the identification of ten signs: the bat sign (pleural line); lung sliding (seashore sign); the A-lines (horizontal artefact); the quad sign and sinusoid sign indicating pleural effusion; the fractal and tissue-like sign indicating lung consolidation; the B-lines and lung rockets indicating interstitial syndromes; abolished lung sliding with the stratosphere sign suggesting pneumothorax; and the lung point indicating pneumothorax. Two more signs, the lung pulse and the dynamic air bronchogram, are used to distinguish atelectasis from pneumonia. The BLUE protocol (Bedside Lung Ultrasound in Emergency) is a fast protocol (< 3 minutes), also including a vascular (venous) analysis allowing differential diagnosis in patients with acute respiratory failure. With this protocol, it becomes possible to differentiate between pulmonary oedema, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and pneumothorax, each showing specific ultrasound patterns and profiles. The FALLS protocol (Fluid Administration Limited by Lung Sonography) adapts the BLUE protocol to be used in patients with acute circulatory failure. It makes a sequential search for obstructive, cardiogenic, hypovolemic, and distributive shock using simple real-time echocardiography in combination with lung ultrasound, with the appearance of B-lines considered to be the endpoint for fluid therapy. An advantage of lung ultrasound is that the patient is not exposed to radiation, and so the LUCI-FLR project (LUCI favouring limitation of radiation) can be unfolded in trauma patients. Although it has been practiced for 25 years, critical care ultrasound is a relatively young but expanding discipline and can be seen as the stethoscope of the modern intensivist. In this review, the usefulness and advantages of ultrasound in the critical care setting are discussed in ten points. The emphasis is on a holistic approach, with a central role for lung ultrasound.

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