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The use of echocardiography in the critically ill presents specific challenges. However, information of direct relevance to clinical management can be obtained relating to abnormalities of structure and function and can be used to estimate pulmonary arterial and venous pressures.Investigation of the consequences of myocardial ischaemia, valvular dysfunction and pericardial disease can be facilitated, and changes characteristic of specific conditions (e.g. sepsis, pulmonary thromboembolism) detected. Echocardiography can also be used to monitor the effects of therapeutic interventions.The applications of echocardiography in the critical care setting (excluding standard peri-operative echocardiography for cardiac surgery) are reviewed, with particular emphasis on the assessment of cardiac physiology.