Stress echocardiography with contrast for the diagnosis of coronary artery disease: an evidence-based analysis

Ont Health Technol Assess Ser. 2010;10(10):1-59. Epub 2010 Jun 1.


In July 2009, the Medical Advisory Secretariat (MAS) began work on Non-Invasive Cardiac Imaging Technologies for the Diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), an evidence-based review of the literature surrounding different cardiac imaging modalities to ensure that appropriate technologies are accessed by patients suspected of having CAD. This project came about when the Health Services Branch at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care asked MAS to provide an evidentiary platform on effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of non-invasive cardiac imaging modalities.After an initial review of the strategy and consultation with experts, MAS identified five key non-invasive cardiac imaging technologies for the diagnosis of CAD. Evidence-based analyses have been prepared for each of these five imaging modalities: cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, single photon emission computed tomography, 64-slice computed tomographic angiography, stress echocardiography, and stress echocardiography with contrast. For each technology, an economic analysis was also completed (where appropriate). A summary decision analytic model was then developed to encapsulate the data from each of these reports (available on the OHTAC and MAS website).The Non-Invasive Cardiac Imaging Technologies for the Diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease series is made up of the following reports, which can be publicly accessed at the MAS website at: or at PHOTON EMISSION COMPUTED TOMOGRAPHY FOR THE DIAGNOSIS OF CORONARY ARTERY DISEASE: An Evidence-Based AnalysisSTRESS ECHOCARDIOGRAPHY FOR THE DIAGNOSIS OF CORONARY ARTERY DISEASE: An Evidence-Based AnalysisSTRESS ECHOCARDIOGRAPHY WITH CONTRAST FOR THE DIAGNOSIS OF CORONARY ARTERY DISEASE: An Evidence-Based Analysis64-Slice Computed Tomographic Angiography for the Diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease: An Evidence-Based AnalysisCARDIAC MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING FOR THE DIAGNOSIS OF CORONARY ARTERY DISEASE: An Evidence-Based AnalysisPease note that two related evidence-based analyses of non-invasive cardiac imaging technologies for the assessment of myocardial viability are also available on the MAS website:POSITRON EMISSION TOMOGRAPHY FOR THE ASSESSMENT OF MYOCARDIAL VIABILITY: An Evidence-Based AnalysisMAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING FOR THE ASSESSMENT OF MYOCARDIAL VIABILITY: an Evidence-Based AnalysisThe Toronto Health Economics and Technology Assessment Collaborative has also produced an associated economic report entitled:The Relative Cost-effectiveness of Five Non-invasive Cardiac Imaging Technologies for Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease in Ontario [Internet]. Available from: OBJECTIVE: The objective of this report is to compare echocardiography (ECHO) performed with microsphere contrast agents (contrast echocardiography) to ECHO performed without contrast and to single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). CONTRAST ECHO: Contrast agents for ECHO have been available since the technology was first introduced in the 1990s. Composed of tiny 'microbubbles' of an inert gas encapsulated within a lipid, protein, or polymer coat, these agents act to scatter incident ultrasound waves at the gas/liquid interface to increase the strength of a returning ECHO signal. When injected into a patient's arm, they are transported throughout even the smallest capillaries to greatly enhance the blood pool signal, which would otherwise appear black on conventional two dimensional ECHO. The enhanced signal then helps cardiologists to determine what parts of the patient's heart muscle are poorly perfused. The first commercially available microsphere contrast agent was Albunex, which received approval by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States in 1994. This original microsphere agent was limited by its rapid gas volume loss which caused a decline in the ultrasound signal. It worked well in the right chambers of the heart, but dissolved when passing through the pulmonary capillaries and so was unable to provide contrast in the left side. Second generation agents employed different gases that prolonged the life of the microbubbles within the circulation and increased the reproducibility of results. Today, the most common use for contrast ECHO is to enhance the definition of the left ventricular (LV) endocardial border for cases of LV opacification. The aim of contrast ECHO is to provide better quantification of LV volume and assessment of LV wall motion than ECHO alone. The newest area of development in the research of contrast ECHO is myocardial perfusion assessment, also known as myocardial contrast ECHO. Theoretically, since myocardial ischemia and infarction affect both perfusion and contractility (wall motion), contrast ECHO could be an ideal non-invasive imaging test as it could assess both perfusion and contractility, simultaneously and in real time. Notably, critically ill patients on ventilators and those with lung problems are more likely to generate poor or 'suboptimal' echocardiograms than other patients, as are obese patients and those who've undergone recent chest operations. Contrast agents can potentially be used in 10% to 15% of all studies and in approximately 33% of stress tests due to from such suboptimal echocardiograms. Stress can be induced either pharmaceutically (e.g., through dobutamine, dipyrimidamole, adenosine) or with exercise. Generally, contrast agents are used more in pharmaceutical stress echocardiograms than in exercise stress echocardiograms. EVIDENCE-BASED ANALYSIS: This MAS analysis sought to address the following research questions: Is contrast ECHO more effective than 99-technetium SPECT in terms its ability to detect CAD?What is the effectiveness of contrast ECHO in assessing patients with suboptimal echocardiograms?Is contrast ECHO safe compared to other cardiac imaging modalities?Is contrast ECHO cost-effective compared to other cardiac imaging modalities?

Literature search: Literature searches were performed on June 22, 2009 and July 27, 2009 using OVID MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library, and the International Agency for Health Technology Assessment (INAHTA) for studies published from January 1, 2004 until June 30, 2009. Abstracts were reviewed by a single reviewer and, for those studies meeting the eligibility criteria; full-text articles were obtained. Reference lists were also examined for any relevant studies not identified through the search.

Inclusion criteria: Systematic reviews, meta-analyses, randomized controlled trials, prospective observational studies, retrospective analysesMinimum sample size of 20 enrolled patients (human only)The contrast agent used in the study must be licensed by Health CanadaComparison to reference standard (coronary angiography for the diagnosis of coronary artery disease)Reporting accuracy data on individual patients (rather than accuracy data stratified by segments of the heart)English language

Exclusion criteria: Non-systematic reviews, case reportsGrey literature (e.g. conference abstracts)

Outcomes of interest: Accuracy outcomes (sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, negative predictive value)Adverse eventsCosts

Summary of findings: Twenty-three observational studies were identified that assessed the diagnostic accuracy of contrast ECHO for the diagnosis of CAD. All of these studies used stress ECHO with contrast. In addition, nine retrospective chart reviews were identified, which assessed the safety of contrast ECHO at rest or stress. Based on the results of these studies the following conclusions were made: Stress ECHO with contrast has a higher diagnostic accuracy in the diagnosis of CAD than stress ECHO (without contrast).Stress ECHO with contrast seems to have a similar diagnostic accuracy to 99 technetium SPECT.The addition of contrast to ECHO in patients with suboptimal ECHO results significantly improves interpretability of the results.There is not a statistically significantly higher mortality rate in patients who receive contrast compared to those who do not.