Vascular applications of contrast-enhanced ultrasound imaging

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Contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) imaging is a powerful noninvasive modality offering numerous potential diagnostic and therapeutic applications in vascular medicine. CEUS imaging uses microbubble contrast agents composed of an encapsulating shell surrounding a gaseous core. These microbubbles act as nearly perfect intravascular reflectors of ultrasound energy and may be used to enhance the overall contrast and quality of ultrasound images. The purpose of this narrative review is to survey the current literature regarding CEUS imaging and discuss its diagnostic and therapeutic roles in current vascular and selected nonvascular applications.


The PubMed, MEDLINE, and Embase databases were searched until July 2016 using the PubMed and Ovid Web-based search engines. The search terms used included contrast-enhanced, microbubble, ultrasound, carotid, aneurysm, and arterial.


The diagnostic and therapeutic utility of CEUS imaging has grown exponentially, particularly in the realms of extracranial carotid arterial disease, aortic disease, and peripheral arterial disease. Studies have demonstrated that CEUS imaging is diagnostically superior to conventional ultrasound imaging in identifying vessel irregularities and measuring neovascularization to assess plaque vulnerability and end-muscle perfusion. Groups have begun to use microbubbles as agents in therapeutic applications for targeted drug and gene therapy delivery as well as for the enhancement of sonothrombolysis.


The emerging technology of microbubbles and CEUS imaging holds considerable promise for cardiovascular medicine and cancer therapy given its diagnostic and therapeutic utility. Overall, with proper training and credentialing of technicians, the clinical implications are innumerable as microbubble technology is rapidly bursting onto the scene of cardiovascular medicine.

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