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Conventional ultrasound is a first-line imaging tool used to diagnose a wide variety of medical conditions throughout the body.

Ultrasound "contrast agents" may be used during an ultrasound examination to improve the clarity and accuracy of a conventional ultrasound image. They consist of suspensions of biocompatible and biodegradable microbubbles that are smaller than red blood cells. Unlike contrast agents used in MRI and angiography procedures, ultrasound contrast agents do not contain dye - which may produce allergic reactions in some patients.

After an ultrasound contrast agent is injected into a patient's arm vein, it flows through the circulatory system, mimicking the flow patterns of red blood cells while reflecting ultrasound signals. An ultrasound probe placed over a region of interest, such as the abdomen or heart, will pick up the reflected signals and transmit them to a moving, real-time image of the target organ system. A few minutes after injection, the contrast agent is essentially breathed out of the body.

Ultrasound contrast agents have been approved for use in adult patients only. Their use in children is off-label and requires informed consent, according to Stenzel.

CEUS is used in the United States to improve certain forms of cardiac imaging, and in Europe, Canada, Asia and Brazil for evaluating medical conditions throughout the body - including the heart, liver, brain, digestive tract and kidneys.

SOURCE International Contrast Ultrasound Society