Tag Archives: thoracic

Lung ultrasound goes viral for flu season

Z-linesMore lung ultrasound tips and examples from Drs. Jim Tsung and Brittany Pardue Jones!

Bacterial pneumonia will manifest as lung consolidation with air bronchograms. The A-line pattern of normal lung will begin to be replaced by B-lines in the area of affected lung:

Here we’ve highlighted the consolidation from the above video as well:


In contrast, subpleural consolidations and confluent B-lines are more suggestive of viral pneumonia.
So what do these look like?

Subpleural consolidation:

and another example:

Confluent B-Lines:

occur when multiple B-lines coalesce. In contrast, the next example demonstrates multiple discrete B-lines.

Multiple B-Lines:

And now for something completely different

Z-Lines:  Comet tails that arise from the pleural line but DO NOT make it to the bottom of the ultrasound screen. These are not B-lines. These artifacts have not been associated with any pathology, and they do not obliterate A-lines.

For more details on the sonographic appearance of viral lung pathology, check out this article by Jim Tsung.

Hepatization versus Pseudo-Hepatization

Counter-intuitively, when insonating the lungs of healthy patients, we don’t “see” lung tissue. Instead we see and interpret artifacts arising from the pleural lines and the diaphragm.  These artifacts change with pulmonary disease processes.  In pneumonia, the airway spaces become inspissated with bacterial byproducts and consequently the sonographic appearance of lung tissue changes.

The transformation of lung tissue is termed hepatization: the lung tissue now appears similar to liver tissue.

This can be confusing in the lower lung fields, especially adjacent to the diaphragm because we use the mirror image artifact of the liver and spleen to indicate that lung tissue is normal. This mirrored, artifactual splenic or liver appearance could then be called pseudo-hepatization.



So, how do we differentiate hepatized lung versus pseudo-hepatized lung?

  1. Never use a single image for your diagnosis, scan through area and convince yourself (then save a representative image or clip for QA).
  2. Be systematic and scan down from the lung apices to the diaphragm.
  3. Hunt for the diaphragm and use it as a dividing line between the lung and the abdominal organs.
  4. Hepatized lung will often have a rim of fluid around it.

Image 1: Normal lung with visible diaphragm

Ultrasound of lung and spleen from Sinai EM Ultrasound on Vimeo.

Image 2: Normal lung with obscured diaphragm

Lung and Spleen Interface on ultrasound from Sinai EM Ultrasound on Vimeo.

Image 3: Hepatized lung at the lower lung field


Ultrasound is quite sensitive in detecting even very small pleural effusions; it has been demonstrated to perform better than chest x-ray and nearly as well as CT scan. In order to assess for pleural fluid, the transducer should be directed through the liver (Right side) or spleen (Left side) and diaphragm. In a normal thorax, a mirror image artifact will generally be seen above the diaphragm. When effusion is present, fluid eradicates this artifact, creating an anechoic appearance in the costophrenic angle.

The image above demonstrates a common pitfall in abdominal and thoracic ultrasound. The liver is visible in the near field, and a dark anechoic structure is evident just deep to the liver. Some see this fluid and may note a positive FAST examination or free intraperitoneal fluid. Others may see this appearance and diagnose pleural effusion or hemothorax. While it is true the anechoic area represents fluid, there is a more correct response.

The inferior vena cava can generally be seen posterior to the liver, towards the patient midline. As it is filled with blood it will appear anechoic. below the diaphragm it will course parallel and to the [patient’s] right of the Aorta. Just above the diaphragm it will quickly merge into the Right Atrium.

As with most scanning, fanning through multiple planes will generally sort out the true anatomy. In the clip below we see the IVC as the operator sweeps medially, and the the pleural effusion is more evident in the lateral portions of the sweep. One (of many) giveaways is that the hepatic veins drain into the IVC, and even in this brief sweep through the IVC a hepatic vein is visible anteriorly, draining into the IVC.

Pleural effusion and mimic from Sinai EM Ultrasound on Vimeo.

Lung Ultrasound Guidelines

Congratulations to Sinai’s own Dr. Jim Tsung, who recently coauthored a major evidence-based consensus guideline on point-of-care lung ultrasound. The manuscript is the result of a multi-national effort by pioneering clinician-sonographers, and was just published in the journal Intensive Care Medicine:

International evidence-based recommendations for point-of-care lung ultrasound.

Volpicelli G, Elbarbary M, Blaivas M, Lichtenstein DA, Mathis G, Kirkpatrick AW, Melniker L, Gargani L, Noble VE, Via G, Dean A, Tsung JW, Soldati G, Copetti R, Bouhemad B, Reissig A, Agricola E, Rouby JJ, Arbelot C, Liteplo A, Sargsyan A, Silva F, Hoppmann R, Breitkreutz R, Seibel A, Neri L, Storti E, Petrovic T; International Liaison Committee on Lung Ultrasound (ILC-LUS) for the International Consensus Conference on Lung Ultrasound (ICC-LUS).

Intensive Care Med. 2012 Mar 6. [Epub ahead of print]

PMID: 22392031

XRS- Rib pain

32 year old female with no past medical history presents with cough for two weeks, no fever, no sputum. Multiple sick contacts with same symptoms at work. She acutely presents with left rib pain for several days.  She reports no trauma, and noted the sharp, positional pain during a fit of coughing. Her vital signs are all within normal limits. She is breathing comfortably, with good air movement, no wheezes, rales, or ronchi. She displays point tenderness over her anterior left 8th rib at the anterior axillary line.  A chest x-ray was ordered; images are below.


Sonopalpation of the tender area revealed the following:

Untitled from Sinai EM Ultrasound on Vimeo.


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