European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging/Cardiovascular Imaging Department of the Brazilian Society of Cardiology recommendations for the use of cardiac imaging to assess and follow patients after heart transplantation

Eur Heart J Cardiovasc Imaging. 2015 Sep;16(9):919-48. doi: 10.1093/ehjci/jev139. Epub 2015 Jul 2.


The cohort of long-term survivors of heart transplant is expanding, and the assessment of these patients requires specific knowledge of the surgical techniques employed to implant the donor heart, the physiology of the transplanted heart, complications of invasive tests routinely performed to detect graft rejection (GR), and the specific pathologies that may affect the transplanted heart. A joint EACVI/Brazilian cardiovascular imaging writing group committee has prepared these recommendations to provide a practical guide to echocardiographers involved in the follow-up of heart transplant patients and a framework for standardized and efficient use of cardiovascular imaging after heart transplant. Since the transplanted heart is smaller than the recipient's dilated heart, the former is usually located more medially in the mediastinum and tends to be rotated clockwise. Therefore, standard views with conventional two-dimensional (2D) echocardiography are often difficult to obtain generating a large variability from patient to patient. Therefore, in echocardiography laboratories equipped with three-dimensional echocardiography (3DE) scanners and specific expertise with the technique, 3DE may be a suitable alternative to conventional 2D echocardiography to assess the size and the function of cardiac chambers. 3DE measurement of left (LV) and right ventricular (RV) size and function are more accurate and reproducible than conventional 2D calculations. However, clinicians should be aware that cardiac chamber volumes obtained with 3DE cannot be compared with those obtained with 2D echocardiography. To assess cardiac chamber morphology and function during follow-up studies, it is recommended to obtain a comprehensive echocardiographic study at 6 months from the cardiac transplantation as a baseline and make a careful quantitation of cardiac chamber size, RV systolic function, both systolic and diastolic parameters of LV function, and pulmonary artery pressure. Subsequent echocardiographic studies should be interpreted in comparison with the data obtained from the 6-month study. An echocardiographic study, which shows no change from the baseline study, has a high negative predictive value for GR. There is no single systolic or diastolic parameter that can be reliably used to diagnose GR. However, in case several parameters are abnormal, the likelihood of GR increases. When an abnormality is detected, careful revision of images of the present and baseline study (side-by-side) is highly recommended. Global longitudinal strain (GLS) is a suitable parameter to diagnose subclinical allograft dysfunction, regardless of aetiology, by comparing the changes occurring during serial evaluations. Evaluation of GLS could be used in association with endomyocardial biopsy (EMB) to characterize and monitor an acute GR or global dysfunction episode. RV size and function at baseline should be assessed using several parameters, which do not exclusively evaluate longitudinal function. At follow-up echocardiogram, all these parameters should be compared with the baseline values. 3DE may provide a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of RV size and function. Moreover, due to the unpredictable shape of the atria in transplanted patients, atrial volume should be measured using the discs' summation algorithm (biplane algorithm for the left atrium) or 3DE. Tricuspid regurgitation should be looked for and properly assessed in all echocardiographic studies. In case of significant changes in severity of tricuspid regurgitation during follow-up, a 2D/3D and colour Doppler assessment of its severity and mechanisms should be performed. Aortic and mitral valves should be evaluated according to current recommendations. Pericardial effusion should be serially evaluated regarding extent, location, and haemodynamic impact. In case of newly detected pericardial effusion, GR should be considered taking into account the overall echocardiographic assessment and patient evaluation. Dobutamine stress echocardiography might be a suitable alternative to routine coronary angiography to assess cardiac allograft vasculopathy (CAV) at centres with adequate experience with the methodology. Coronary flow reserve and/or contrast infusion to assess myocardial perfusion might be combined with stress echocardiography to improve the accuracy of the test. In addition to its role in monitoring cardiac chamber function and in diagnosis the occurrence of GR and/or CAV, in experienced centres, echocardiography might be an alternative to fluoroscopy to guide EMB, particularly in children and young women, since echocardiography avoids repeated X-ray exposure, permits visualization of soft tissues and safer performance of biopsies of different RV regions. Finally, in addition to the indications about when and how to use echocardiography, the document also addresses the role of the other cardiovascular imaging modalities during follow-up of heart transplant patients. In patients with inadequate acoustic window and contraindication to contrast agents, pharmacological SPECT is an alternative imaging modality to detect CAV in heart transplant patients. However, in centres with adequate expertise, intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) in conjunction with coronary angiography with a baseline study at 4-6 weeks and at 1 year after heart transplant should be performed to exclude donor coronary artery disease, to detect rapidly progressive CAV, and to provide prognostic information. Despite the fact that coronary angiography is the current gold-standard method for the detection of CAV, the use of IVUS should also be considered when there is a discrepancy between non-invasive imaging tests and coronary angiography concerning the presence of CAV. In experienced centres, computerized tomography coronary angiography is a good alternative to coronary angiography to detect CAV. In patients with a persistently high heart rate, scanners that provide high temporal resolution, such as dual-source systems, provide better image quality. Finally, in patients with insufficient acoustic window, cardiac magnetic resonance is an alternative to echocardiography to assess cardiac chamber volumes and function and to exclude acute GR and CAV in a surveillance protocol.

Keywords: Doppler echocardiography; cardiac allograft rejection; cardiac allograft vasculopathy; coronary flow reserve; echocardiography; endomyocardial biopsy; heart transplantation; myocardial deformation imaging; stress echocardiography; three-dimensional echocardiography; tissue Doppler imaging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brazil
  • Cardiac Imaging Techniques / methods*
  • Continuity of Patient Care / standards
  • Continuity of Patient Care / trends
  • Coronary Angiography / methods
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Artery Disease / physiopathology
  • Echocardiography
  • Echocardiography, Stress / methods
  • Echocardiography, Three-Dimensional / methods
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Graft Rejection
  • Heart Transplantation / adverse effects
  • Heart Transplantation / methods*
  • Heart Transplantation / mortality
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cine / methods
  • Male
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis*
  • Postoperative Complications / mortality
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Societies, Medical / standards
  • Survival Analysis
  • Survivors
  • Time Factors