Best Uses for 3D and 4D Ultrasound Machines

Doctor holding the result of a 4D ultrasound scan

Doctor holding the result of a 4D ultrasound scan

3D and 4D ultrasound machines offer several advantages over 2D equipment. While 2D ultrasound machines present images in just one plane, 3D equipment produces images by integrating a series of 2D images in different planes using a high-speed computer. This updated imaging allowing practitioners to choose any view or plane of interest.

While there’s a difference between 3D and 4D ultrasounds in terms of their technology and applications, the terms are used almost interchangeably. 3D/4D ultrasound machines allow doctors to not only diagnose but also treat serious maladies in several specialties. Plus, they’re preferred by surgeons for image-guided medical procedures and surgeries including magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound surgery, ultrasound elasticity testing, and drug-ultrasound stroke treatment.

Advanced technologies like 3D and 4D ultrasound have and will continue to broaden the scope of the imaging modality with further technological innovations.

Applications of 3D/4D Ultrasound Machines

 Echo ultrasound machine

3D/4D ultrasound technology is used in diagnosing and treating cardio and vascular conditions and is also used in local anesthesia and surgical guidance. In obstetrics, it’s extremely useful in visualizing the movement of a fetus including heart, face, and other body parts.

Ultrasound technology is also used in multi-planar imaging of the pelvic organs, examining breast lesions, treating stroke patients, and alleviating uterine fibroid. Diagnostic medical procedures like biopsies and enhanced visualization of cardiac structures can also benefit from ultrasound machines. Let’s examine some of the uses of 3D/4D ultrasound in detail.

1. Cardiology

Real-time 3D/4D or echocardiography – the technology that helps evaluate a patient’s cardiac condition – is extremely beneficial. It’s typically called 3D Echocardiography or 3DE. When used in combination with other technologies, it helps us track blood flow, the rate of expansions and contractions, and measure other cardiac parameters like the chamber volume.

3D ultrasound is used in interventional cardiology for evaluating structural heart disease. Other common uses surrounding the heart include percutaneous mitral valve repair, mitral balloon valvuloplasty, and for percutaneously closing large atrial septal defects.

In the past, severely impaired valves were traditionally treated by replacing them with an artificial valve. However, with 3D/4D TEE (Transthoracic Echocardiograms) doctors can assess whether a valve can be repaired before surgery. But that’s not all!

The technology even enables medical professionals to evaluate the results of the repair and the improvement in ventricular functioning. Doctors find that 3D echo generates more quantitative data which helps increase their diagnostic confidence. Some recent machines even help visualize the blood swirling around clots in arteries, helping them measure the severity of blood leakage around the valves.

What is a 4D Ultrasound? What is the Difference Between a 3D and 4D Ultrasound?

4D ultrasound allows doctors to visualize the heart in all four dimensions. This is a primary difference between a 3D and 4D ultrasound. A 4D ultrasound includes the three spatial dimensions and time. This is a crucial advantage of 4D as it allows doctors to visualize the heart beating without having to go through a surgical procedure. 4D ultrasound can also be used to assess LV function with quantification.

Ultrasound – the Preferred Imaging Modality for Cardiology

While some imaging modalities allow for the evaluation of abnormalities, they do not allow an evaluation of the heart and it’s functioning in real-time. Plus, they require patients to travel to an imaging center. In contrast, portable ultrasound machines allow practitioners to perform diagnosis and ultrasound-guided cardiac procedures in emergency settings, labs, and the patient’s bedside.

2. Vascular Imaging

Another application that has benefited significantly from 3D/4D ultrasound is vascular imaging. The credit goes to an innovative technology called volume imaging that increases diagnostic efficiency and confidence. Volume imaging allows healthcare practitioners to manipulate data and visualize planes that were not previously available.

Modern ultrasound machines include advanced features that offer options like a 3-D multi-slice view in volumetric imaging. They even allow users to select the slice thickness, the number of images to be displayed, and offline volume data sets for later review.

3D ultrasound helps track the dynamic movement of blood cells and arteries, which is impossible without real-time imaging. When combined with other technologies, it can help medical professionals even measure the diameter of and diagnose the wall between arteries

With the help of 3D ultrasound, vascular imaging exams also include evaluation of the venous circulation in the arms and legs and abdominal arteries like the abdominal aorta, renal and mesenteric arteries. Ultrasounds also help in other vascular scans like a carotid duplex, bypass grafts, and AV hemodialysis grafts.

3. 3D and 4D Ultrasound Applications in Obstetrics

While there’s a difference between 3D and 4D ultrasound, both the technologies are widely used in obstetrics.

3D Ultrasound for Fetal Heart Imaging

Yet another crucial application of volume imaging is in examining the fetal cardiovascular system.

With 3D ultrasound, the fetal heart can be viewed in real-time. In 3D scanning, the data is displayed in a multi-planar or image format. In the multi-planar format, with the help of Doppler, operators can even view the blood flowing through the various chambers and valves.

The image format is created by a computerized process that fills in the gaps to ensure a smooth 3D image. There is even an option of a tomographic mode that enables operators to visualize multiple parallel slices in the traverse plane from the 3D or 4D data set.

3D ultrasound helps operators easily view the fetal heart structures that cannot be visualized in 2D scans, thus increasing the possibility of detecting defects. 3D/4D ultrasound help in accurately assessing the overall development of the fetus and identifying structural abnormalities like those of the face and limbs, potential cleft lip, skeletal or neural tube defects, spine curvature, or fluid accumulation.

The central difference between 3D and 4D ultrasound is that 4D is 3D in live motion. Hence 4D allows doctors to examine the movement of almost any moving organ in the body.

4D Ultrasound for Live Fetal Videos

The latest in 3D/4D technology has found a new use – providing parents with keepsake images and videos of the unborn baby. Keepsake pictures and videos are becoming quite popular among parents as it allows them to admire and bond with the unborn baby. While 3D ultrasound machines produce three-dimensional pictures of the unborn baby, 4D equipment provides a live video, allowing parents to see their child moving or yawning. So, another difference between 3D and 4D ultrasound is that 4D offers parents a closer opportunity to bond with the unborn baby by helping them visualize their movements live.

4. Surgical Guidance

A major limitation of 2D ultrasound is that it cannot help in determining the exact location of organs and tissues in the oblique plane. This was a huge challenge while conducting surgeries but thanks to 3D ultrasound, surgeons now have the advantage of obtaining a complete scan of the organs and tissues in real-time. As 3D ultrasound enables techniques like rotational visualization and slice projection, it’s an extremely valuable tool in guiding surgeries related to transplants or cancer.

3D ultrasound even helps in the treatment of tumors as it allows doctors to examine tissues. As can be seen, 3D ultrasound helps overcome life-threatening conditions like cancer and tumors, having far-reaching implications. It even helps doctors rectify cases of failing organs by aiding transplants.

5. Regional Anesthesia

3D ultrasound, with its real-time imaging capabilities, allows doctors to clearly identify relevant anatomy, which is extremely beneficial while administering regional anesthesia. It’s widely used to guide peripheral nerve blockade procedures. Since it allows doctors to easily visualize muscles, nerves, and vessels, it provides accurate guidance while inserting a needle or catheter under the skin. Since 3D ultrasound doesn’t depend on the plane of the image, it allows surgeons to view the needle at all times, in stark contrast to 2D ultrasound.

There’s no doubt that 3D and 4D ultrasound machines provide a multitude of benefits in diagnosing cardio, fetal, and vascular abnormalities and performing with ease image-guided procedures. They help improve patient outcomes and satisfaction, helping doctors identify and manage life-threatening medical conditions in several specialties. The difference between 3D and 4D ultrasound notwithstanding, both three- and four-dimensional machines have proven to be powerful diagnostic and therapeutic tools and will continue to play a vital role in improving the quality of healthcare.

With further technological innovations in imaging capabilities, transducer technology, standardization, functionality, and features, 3D/4D ultrasound technology will be adopted on a much larger scale by medical professionals all over the world.

If you would like to equip your practice with a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine, browse National Ultrasound’s variety of ultrasound equipment and applications, which include a full line of branded ultrasound equipment like the Mindray M6 ultrasound machine. Or if you would like professional guidance in selecting the right ultrasound machine, Contact National Ultrasound today to speak to one of our representatives. Let our skilled professionals evaluate your requirements and fit you with exactly what you need!