Archive for February 25th, 2014

February 25, 2014

Task Force Guidelines on Aorta Screening in Smokers

Vincent Willem van Gogh (self portrait) Copyright Public Domain

Vincent Willem van Gogh (self portrait) Copyright Public Domain

This is a call to older male smokers. As a smoker you are at risk for many health issues. While heart and lung conditions are the more commonly known diseases for smokers, vascular diseases are another. Abdominal aortic aneurysm, or “AAA,” is yet another significant health issue that may be seen with higher frequency in smokers. An aneurysm is an abnormal ballooning or dilatation of a blood vessel. In this case, the aneurysm involves the aorta – the main artery carrying blood to the abdomen and lower body. As the aneurysm gets bigger, there is a risk of sudden death from rupture.

Recently the USPSTF, a task force that reviews guidelines and screening studies, came forward with a recommendation with the intention of saving lives. The Task Force has issued a recommendation for ultrasound screening of male smokers over the age of 65 for the presence of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Further research is needed to determine the usefulness of the screening test both in women who smoke and in older male non-smokers.

Making use of the simple non-invasive technology of ultrasound, one-time screenings for men in the high risk category will help improve survival from complications of abdominal aortic aneurysm. For more on the recommendation, we recommend this resource.

February 25, 2014

What Is Ultrasound?

Philips - Ultrasound EPIQ - Abdominal by Philips Communications via Flickr Copyright Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Philips – Ultrasound EPIQ – Abdominal by Philips Communications via Flickr Copyright Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Today we will focus on another imaging technique that has revolutionized the practice of medicine in the past 3 decades. Ultrasound is a noninvasive form of imaging which uses sound waves to create images of the body. That’s right – sound waves!

An ultrasound technologist, also known as a sonographer, uses a transducer (probe) on the surface of the skin, connected to a computer. The transducer transmits sound waves into the body and then receives the sound waves as they come back to the transducer after they travel through and are reflected in the body. DIfferent tissues reflect and transmit the sound waves differently, allowing images to be created. A warm gel is applied to avoid air between the probe and the skin which can interfere with transmitting the sound waves.

How does it differ from other imaging techniques?

  • Firstly, ultrasound uses no ionizing radiation. It is a safe technique when performed properly with little risks to the patient, making it ideal for use in the young or pregnant patient.

  • Ultrasound can be used real-time, meaning images can be obtained while the patient is moving. This is particularly useful when studying things like joints or in directly assessing the exact site of symptoms.

  • The patient can be examined in different positions – for evaluating some structures, like leg veins, it may be helpful to examine the patient when they are upright. Joints may also require changes in patient position.

  • The machines are small – and getting smaller. For patients in the hospital, this means that the machine can be brought to the patient, rather than requiring the patient to move.

  • Doppler is an ultrasound technique which allows the study of blood flow, helpful in assessing many parts of the body, from the arteries in the neck to blood flow in the kidneys.

If you hear ultrasound and conjure images of pregnant women getting ultrasounds, you are not alone. Many are unaware of the number of applications of the technique in the body. With ultrasound, we can image most any part of the body – from the head to your toes and all parts between.