Common Pitfalls in Point-Of-Care Ultrasound: A Practical Guide for Emergency and Critical Care Physicians

Crit Ultrasound J. 2016 Dec;8(1):15. doi: 10.1186/s13089-016-0052-x. Epub 2016 Oct 26.


Background: Point-of-care ultrasonography (POCUS) is a widely used tool in emergency and critical care settings, useful in the decision-making process as well as in interventional guidance. While having an impressive diagnostic accuracy in the hands of highly skilled operators, inexperienced practitioners must be aware of some common misinterpretations that may lead to wrong decisions at the bedside.

Objectives: This article provides a revision list of common POCUS misdiagnoses usually found in practice and offers useful tips to recognize and avoid them.

Discussion: The following aspects were selected and reviewed: pericardial effusion vs. pleural vs. ascites vs. epicardial fat; right ventricle dilation in acute pulmonary embolism and inferior vena cava for volume status assessment in cardiac ultrasound; lung point and lung pulse misinterpretations and mirror artifacts vs. lung consolidations in lung ultrasound; peritoneal fluid vs. the stomach and a critical appraisal of gallbladder signs of acute cholecystitis in abdominal ultrasound; the rouleaux phenomenon vs. deep vein thrombosis or acute right strain in vascular ultrasound.

Conclusions: Following some rules in technique and interpretation, and always integrating POCUS findings into the broader clinical context, most POCUS misdiagnosis can be avoided, and thus patients' safety can be enhanced. Being aware of a list of common pitfalls may help to avoid misdiagnoses.

Keywords: Critical care; Injuries; Point-of-care; Ultrasonography.

Publication types

  • Review