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Echocardiography. 2018 Nov;35(11):1847-1859. doi: 10.1111/echo.14163. Epub 2018 Oct 18.

When appearances deceive: Echocardiographic changes due to common chest pathology.

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Department of Cardiology, Aalborg University Hospital, Aalborg, Denmark.
Department of Anaesthesiology & Intensive Care, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus N, Denmark.
Department of Cardiology, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus N, Denmark.
Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University, Aarhus N, Denmark.
Department of Respiratory Medicine, Odense University Hospital, Odense, Denmark.


Most indications for performing echocardiography focus on the evaluation of properties intrinsic to the heart. However, numerous extra-cardiac conditions indirectly convey changes to the echocardiographic appearance through alterations in the governing physiology. Pulmonary embolism increases pulmonary arterial pressure if a sufficient cross-sectional area of the pulmonary vascular bed is occluded. This may result in dilatation of the right ventricle and, in severe cases, concomitant early diastolic septal collapse into the left ventricle. Acute respiratory failure has been shown to yield a similar echocardiographic appearance in experimental conditions due to the resultant pulmonary vasoconstriction. Echocardiography in the presence of pulmonary disease can reveal underlying cardiac pathologies such as pulmonary hypertension that contribute to the clinical severity of respiratory distress. Positive pressure ventilation affects preload, afterload, and compliance of both ventricles. The echocardiographic net result cannot be uniformly anticipated, but provides information on the deciding physiology or pathophysiology. Mediastinal pathology including tumors, herniation of abdominal content, and pleural effusion can often be visualized directly with echocardiography. Mediastinal pathologies adjacent to the heart may compress the myocardium directly, thus facilitating echocardiographic and clinical signs of tamponade in the absence of pericardial effusion. In conclusion, many pathologies of extra-cardiac origin influence the echocardiographic appearance of the heart. These changes do not reflect properties of the myocardium but may well be mistaken for it. Hence, these conditions are essential knowledge to all physicians performing echocardiography across the spectrum from advanced cardiological diagnostics to rapid point-of-care focused cardiac ultrasonography.


2D echocardiography; acute respiratory distress syndrome; cardiac tamponade; pleural effusion; pulmonary embolism

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