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National Association Endorses Recommendations for Contrast Agent Use in Heart Ultrasounds (Echocardiograms)

American Society of Echocardiography Lays out Clinical Applications and Safety Considerations

MORRISVILLE, N.C., Nov. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) today backed the use of contrast agents, used to enhance echocardiogram images, and provided a guide for physicians who may be hesitant to use the contrast agents following a 2007 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) black box warning. In a new statement, supported by expert consensus opinion, critical review, and evidence-based research, ASE outlines why, when and how the contrast agents should be used to enhance diagnosis, the role for each person in the lab, and methods to implement contrast in the lab. The statement, "The American Society of Echocardiography Consensus Statement on the Clinical Applications of Ultrasonic Contrast Agents in Echocardiography," was released in the November 2008 issue of The Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography.

Cardiologists use echocardiograms (live, real-time ultrasound images of the beating heart) to evaluate the heart's performance, as well as the structures of the heart. The consensus statement affirms that contrast enhancement is an essential part of modern, quality-driven echocardiography laboratories inside and outside the hospital where both resting and stress echo testing are done.

"Ultrasound contrast agents have an established role in clinical diagnosis, patient management and clinical research," said Dr. Sharon Mulvagh, one of the lead authors of the document. "Contrast agents can provide sonographers and physicians the clear images they need to diagnose life threatening heart conditions that may not be otherwise visible."

Acknowledging that the FDA black box warning initiated in 2007 and revised in 2008 may weigh heavily on concerned physicians, ASE outlined the proven benefits of contrast agents in its consensus statement, and reviewed the specific contraindications which include significant intracardiac shunts, and known hypersensitivity. Beyond the obvious benefits of being able to clearly see heart structures in patients with poor images, most commonly due to intervening fat and lung tissues, unique benefits include the following:

-- Contrast enhanced echocardiography in the emergency department can play

a useful role in the triage of patients with chest pain through

accurate, early diagnosis.

-- Contrast enhancement in technically difficult to image patients in the

intensive care unit (ICU) can be used to provide bedside assessment of

cardiac structure and function without having to resort to more invasive

procedures (such as placing a probe into the esophagus and stomach).

-- The accuracy of contrast echocardiography has been validated for the

qualitative and quantitative assessment of the heart chambers and should

be considered in patients in whom precise information is clinically

required - such as patients under consideration for medical devices or

potential heart transplant.

"Those in the medical field concerned about the safety of ultrasound contrast agents should consider the proven efficacy, the previously established safety of these compounds, and the potential risk of alternative procedures," said Dr. William A. Zoghbi, President of the American Society of Echocardiography. "Ultrasound contrast agents have been safely and effectively used in echocardiography studies performed in the echo lab, emergency department, ICU, interventional cardiology suite, and operating room."

ASE also noted that contrast agent use is cost-effective when used in an appropriate and efficient manner. Contrast echocardiography can convert a technically difficult, nondiagnostic stress echocardiogram into an accurate diagnostic study and avoid either an unachievable, missed or wrong diagnosis. This obviates the need for putting the patient through further testing and improves efficiency, resulting in cost savings.

ASE advises the medical community that implementation of a contrast program requires a strong commitment to quality on the part of the medical director. Laboratories that have been successful in establishing contrast agent use have uniformly implemented a practice by which the sonographer, at the beginning of the study, identifies the need for the use of a contrast agent, on the basis of a standing order that clearly describes appropriate indications and addresses the relatively few contraindications.

To read the full document, visit

About ASE

The American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) is a professional organization of physicians, cardiac sonographers, nurses and scientists involved in echocardiography, the use of ultrasound to image the heart and cardiovascular system. The organization was founded in 1975 and has more than 14,000 members nationally and internationally. For more information on ASE, visit or ASE's Public Information site,

Contact: Katy Funk


SOURCE The American Society of Echocardiography
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