Transthoracic ultrasonography for the respiratory physician

Respiration. 2012;84(4):337-50. doi: 10.1159/000339997. Epub 2012 Jul 20.


Transthoracic ultrasonography is still not utilized to its full potential by respiratory physicians, despite being a well-established and validated imaging modality. It allows for an immediate and mobile assessment that can potentially augment the physical examination of the chest. Ultrasound (US)-assisted procedures can be performed by a single clinician with no sedation and with minimal monitoring, even outside of theatre. The main indications for the use of transthoracic US are: the qualitative and quantitative description of pleural effusions, pleural thickening, diaphragmatic dysfunction and chest-wall and pleural tumours. It may also be used to visualise lung tumours and other parenchymal pulmonary processes provided they abut the pleura. It is at least as sensitive as chest radiographs as far as the detection of a pneumothorax is concerned. It is the ideal tool to assist with thoracocentesis and drainage of effusions. The US-assisted fine-needle aspiration and/or cutting-needle biopsy of extrathoracic lymph nodes, lesions arising from the chest wall, pleura, peripheral lung and mediastinum, are safe and have a high yield in the hands of chest physicians. US may also guide the aspiration and biopsy of diffuse pulmonary infiltrates, consolidations and lung abscesses, provided the chest wall is abutted. Advanced applications of transthoracic US include the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pulmonary Medicine / methods
  • Ultrasonography / instrumentation
  • Ultrasonography / methods*
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional / methods*