The days of having your blood pressure taken with an uncomfortable arm-squeezing cuff may be numbered, after scientists developed a far more pleasant technique.

Researchers used an ultrasound scanner, more commonly used on pregnant women, to measure a person's blood pressure pulse at various points around the body.

The team, from the Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands, said the procedure would help prevent heart attacks and strokes by giving a far clearer picture of the condition of the heart and blood vessels.

Dr Nathalie Binjnens, said scientists had been searching for such a non-invasive method for years. She said: 'The usual method is to insert a catheter with a pressure sensor. But that’s an invasive procedure, and not suitable for preventive diagnostics.

'There’s also the traditional method using an inflatable arm cuff. But that doesn’t allow any conclusions to be drawn about – for example – the blood pressure in the carotid artery.'

The cartoid arteries are found on each side of the neck and provide the main blood supply to the brain. 'You won’t find anyone willing to have the blood pressure in their neck measured using an inflatable cuff,' Dr Binjnens said.

In the new technique doctors apply a small amount of gel to various points around the body so that the scanner makes good contact with the skin. The researchers then use a mathematical model to achieve a good visualisation of the blood flow and the blood vessel wall motion, from which the blood pressure can be derived. They can also see the variations in blood pressure and flow in time as a result of the beating of the heart.  The simultaneous knowledge of pressure and flow also provides information about ‘downstream’ parts of the vascular system.  Doctors will be able to use the technique to give an early warning to patients in danger of developing cardiovascular problems.

Dr Binjens said: 'By performing a simple scan, the physician can detect vascular disease in an early stage and decide for a preventive treatment.' She said it could be used to monitor diseases such as thrombosos or aneurysms (dangerous dilations of a blood vessel that can lead to strokes).

The researchers published their results last month in the scientific journal Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology.  The method was first tested on elastic plastic tubes, and after that on pigs’ carotid arteries from an abattoir, with good results. It is currently being tested on volunteers in advance of clinical tests with patients. The results have been promising but researchers say it will take a few years to develop before it is ready for GP practices.
Daily Mail Reporter

a) Thoracic X-ray of a patient with amoebic liver abscess showing the elevation of the right hemi-diaphragm. Ultrasound images of: b) Single large amoebic abscess and c) Three amoebic hepatic abscesses. d) Contrasted computed tomography (CT) scan of a single abscess and e) Three clear amoebic liver abscesses
OREM, UT, June 02, 2011 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Just as insurance carriers are scrutinizing the higher cost of a CT scan versus that of an ultrasound for diagnostic screenings, patients are becoming aware of and concerned about the amount of radiation delivered by a CT scan. This is leading to an increased number of ultrasounds being performed in several medical situations. KLAS's "Ultrasound 2011--Innovation on the Move" investigates a number of ultrasound vendors--what they offer and how that offering aligns with the diverse and expanding needs of healthcare providers.

"Providers, determined to respond to the concerns of both patients and insurance companies, must know they can count on ultrasound technology that will perform well across multiple specialties," noted Emily Crane, author of the report. "They want a system that is easy to move, because the anticipated increase in use means ultrasound scans will be performed across diverse departments throughout a facility."

The 237 respondents, 73 percent of whom are either radiologists or sonographers working in facilities with 500 beds or less, named the six ultrasound vendor firms they currently work with: GE, Hitachi, Philips, Siemens, Toshiba, and ZONARE. Philips and GE are performing extremely well with their newest customers and are seeing early adoption of new technologies and procedures.

Of the top three ranked performers--GE, Toshiba, and Philips--the most satisfied customers belong to GE and Philips. Although reported costs are on the high end, GE received the highest marks for overall image quality while still being mobile enough for most providers. One hundred percent of GE customers say they would buy the LOGIQ E9 again. Philips customers generally feel the units perform very well on most scan types and offer excellent technology; however, the system's mobility is not highly rated. And although Toshiba customers are generally pleased with cost, reliability, and image quality, newer customers are not as happy with implementation and training. They too are less satisfied with mobility and the ease of use.

"New research presented at the 2011 American Institute of Ultrasound annual meeting revealed that partially substituting ultrasound for CT scans in evaluating appendicitis alone could save the U.S. healthcare system more than $1.2 billion annually," said Crane. "This is financially significant and should lead to greater numbers of ultrasound scans being performed. Providers need to determine what matters most to them, and then select the ultrasound system that will best satisfy their imaging requirements."

Ultrasound customers are always looking for new technology, and the 'buzz' in 2011 is focused around breast imaging, but there are a number of benefits to consider. Some providers want low prices, dependable service, and thorough training. Others are looking for technical innovations such as image fusion, elastrography, and 3D/4D applications. As providers ramp up and broaden their use of ultrasounds across specialties, it will be easier for them to determine which services they value most highly.
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