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Curr Opin Crit Care. 2019 Dec;25(6):675-687. doi: 10.1097/MCC.0000000000000664.

Ultrasound in the surgical ICU: uses, abuses, and pitfalls.

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Department of Surgery, Section of General Surgery, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Departments of General, Acute Care, Abdominal Wall Reconstruction, and Trauma Surgery, Foothills Medical Centre, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.



Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) has become an integral component of daily care in the surgical ICU. There have been many novel advancements in the past two decades, too numerous to count. Many are of critical importance to the intensive care physician, whereas others are still accumulating evidence. Without appropriate training, diligence, and incorporation of the ultrasound findings into the whole clinical picture, this technique can be gravely misused. This review examines POCUS use in the surgical ICU, as well as highlights potential hazards and common pitfalls.


POCUS is essential for guidance of vascular access procedures, as well as in the characterization and treatment of respiratory failure, shock, and unstable blunt abdominal trauma. Ultrasound has growing evidence for rapidly evaluating many other diseases throughout the entire body, as well as guidance for procedures. Using advanced ultrasound techniques should only be done with corresponding levels of training and experience.


Ultrasound in the critical care setting has become an essential component of the assessment of most ICU patients. As more evidence accumulates, along with ever-increasing availability of ultrasound technology, its use will continue to expand. It, thus, behoves clinicians to not only ensure they are adept at obtaining and interpreting POCUS images but also efficiently incorporate these skills into holistic bedside care without delaying lifesaving therapies.

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