Extravascular lung water (EVLW) is a key variable in heart failure management and prognosis, but its objective assessment remains elusive. Lung imaging has been traditionally considered off-limits for ultrasound techniques due to the acoustic barrier of high-impedance air wall. In pulmonary congestion however, the presence of both air and water creates a peculiar echo fingerprint. Lung ultrasound shows B-lines, comet-like signals arising from a hyper-echoic pleural line with a to-and-fro movement synchronized with respiration. Increasing EVLW accumulation changes the normal, no-echo signal (black lung, no EVLW) into a black-and-white pattern (interstitial sub-pleural oedema with multiple B-lines) or a white lung pattern (alveolar pulmonary oedema) with coalescing B-lines. The number and spatial extent of B-lines on the antero-lateral chest allows a semi-quantitative estimation of EVLW (from absent, ≤5, to severe pulmonary oedema, >30 B-lines). Wet B-lines are made by water and decreased by diuretics, which cannot modify dry B-lines made by connective tissue. B-lines can be evaluated anywhere (including extreme environmental conditions with pocket size instruments to detect high-altitude pulmonary oedema), anytime (during dialysis to titrate intervention), by anyone (even a novice sonographer after 1 h training), and on anybody (since the chest acoustic window usually remains patent when echocardiography is not feasible). Cardiologists can achieve much diagnostic gain with little investment of technology, training, and time. B-lines represent 'the shape of lung water'. They allow non-invasive detection, in real time, of even sub-clinical forms of pulmonary oedema with a low cost, radiation-free approach.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine