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Clin Physiol. 1999 Jan;19(1):45-55.

How can the variability in ultrasound measurement of intima-media thickness be reduced? Studies of interobserver variability in carotid and femoral arteries.

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  • 1Wallenberg Laboratory for Cardiovascular Research, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Göteborg University, Gothenburg, Sweden.


A critical component in scientific studies of most biological variables is the variation or error in measurements which leads to non-identical results of repeated measurements from the same subject. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the interobserver error (s) in measurement of intima-media thickness (IMT) in carotid and femoral arteries could be decreased if the mean value obtained using two ultrasound images from each of the right and left arteries was used in the analyses instead of the mean value obtained using images from only the right artery. In addition, we wished to evaluate two different reading procedures, one based on manual tracing of echo interfaces and the other on automated edge detection. In a methodological study, 50 subjects were examined with ultrasound twice in the same day by two independent laboratory technologists. The ultrasound images were analysed in two ways: using a computerized manual tracing analysing system and an automated analysing system. When both right and left carotid arteries were examined (manual reading), the interobserver error was smaller than that determined for the examination of only the right artery, for IMTmean in both the common carotid artery (P = 0.06) and the carotid artery bulb (P < 0.05). The interobserver error was also significantly smaller for double-sided vs. one-sided examination with automated reading of IMTmean in the common carotid artery (P < 0.01) and in the carotid artery bulb (P < 0.01). The coefficient of variation (CV) for measurement in the common carotid artery decreased from 8.6% (one-sided, manual reading) to 5.3% (double-sided, automated reading). The interobserver error in measurement of IMT in the common femoral artery did not improve by examination of both right and left arteries. The results from this study show that the interobserver errors in measurement of IMT can be decreased by using ultrasound images from both the right and the left carotid arteries, and that the use of an automated analysing system greatly simplifies the reading of ultrasound images with sustained low variability.

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