Diagnosis and assessment of pulmonary vascular disease by Doppler echocardiography

Pulm Circ. 2011 Apr-Jun;1(2):160-81. doi: 10.4103/2045-8932.83446.


Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a relatively misunderstood disease, partly related to the fact that many perceive PH to be a singular diagnosis. An unintended consequence of this is the misapplication of the role of the Doppler-Echocardiographic (DE) examination, as well as an underappreciation for its ability to help discern PH pathophysiology prior to right heart catheterization. Since DE often serves as the "gatekeeper" to invasive right heart catheterization, misinterpretation of the DE can lead to missed or delayed diagnosis with devastating consequences. Too often, the primary or nearly exclusive focus of the DE examination is placed on the pulmonary artery pressure estimation. Two main issues with this approach are that Doppler pressure estimations can be inaccurate and even when accurate, without integration of additional 2-D and Doppler information, the clinician will often still not appreciate the pathophysiology of the PH nor its clinical significance. This review will focus on the 2-D and Doppler features necessary to assess pulmonary vascular disease (PVD), discern the salient differences between PVD and pulmonary venous hypertension (PVH), and how to integrate these key DE parameters such that PH pathophysiology can be determined noninvasively and early in the patient workup. Overreliance on any single DE metric, and especially PA pressure estimation, detracts from the overall diagnostic potential of the DE examination. Integrating the relative balance of right and left heart findings, along with proper Doppler interpretation provides a wealth of clinical and pathophysiologic insight prior to invasive hemodynamic assessment. The end results are heightened awareness and improved identification of which patients should be referred for further invasive testing, as well the use of the DE information to compliment the findings from invasive testing.

Keywords: Doppler; echocardiogram; pulmonary hypertension; right ventricular function.