Ultrasound lung comets: a clinically useful sign of extravascular lung water

J Am Soc Echocardiogr. 2006 Mar;19(3):356-63. doi: 10.1016/j.echo.2005.05.019.


Assessment of extravascular lung water is a challenging task for the clinical cardiologist and an elusive target for the echocardiographer. Today chest x-ray is considered the best way to assess extravascular lung water objectively, but this requires radiology facilities and specific reading expertise, uses ionizing energy, and poses a significant logistic burden. Recently, a new method was developed using echocardiography (with cardiac probes) of the lung. An increase in extravascular lung water-as assessed independently by chest computed tomography, chest x-ray, and thermodilution techniques-is mirrored by appearance of ultrasound lung comets (ULCs). ULCs consist of multiple comet tails originating from water-thickened interlobular septa and fanning out from the lung surface. The technique requires ultrasound scanning of the anterior right and left chest, from the second to the fifth intercostal space. It is simple (with a learning curve of < 10 examinations) and fast to perform (requiring < 3 minutes). ULC assessment is independent of the cardiac acoustic window, because the lung on the anterior chest is scanned. It requires very basic 2-D technology imaging, even without a second harmonic or Doppler. ULCs probably represent an ultrasonic equivalent of radiologic Kerley B-lines. On still-frame assessment, cardiogenic watery comets can be difficult to distinguish from pneumogenic fibrotic comets, although the latter are usually more localized and are not dissolved by an acute diuretic challenge. Functionally, ULCs are a sign of distress of the alveolar-capillary membrane, often associated with reduced ejection fraction and increased pulmonary wedge pressure. The ULC sign is quantitative, reproducible, and ideally suited to complement conventional echocardiography in the evaluation of heart failure patients in the emergency department (for the differential diagnosis of dyspnea), in-hospital evaluation (for tailoring diuretic therapy), home care (with portable ultrasound), and stress echocardiography lab (as a sign of acute pulmonary congestion during stress). In conclusion, ULCs represent a useful, practical, and appealingly simple way to image directly extravascular lung water.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Artifacts*
  • Extravascular Lung Water / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement / methods*
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Pulmonary Edema / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography