A noninvasive method that uses an echo scanner can aid in predicting the severity of heart failure. (Credit: Eindhoven University of Technology)

Researchers have developed a patient-friendly method to determine the severity of heart failure. The quick, noninvasive method is cost-effective and can be performed at the hospital bedside. The method uses an echo scanner, which is known mainly for echoes performed during pregnancy. The researchers measured the time it took for blood to travel from the heart’s right ventricle through the lungs to the left ventricle, which is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood through the body.

In order to measure this pulmonary transit time (PTT), they injected harmless microbubbles that could be seen clearly by the echo scanner. They then looked at the heart and see how long it took for the bubbles to get from the right to the left ventricle. They compared the transit time with a number of existing indicators, developing a similar method on the basis of MRI.

Comparisons revealed that the PTT measured with the echo scanner provides an excellent indicator for the severity of a heart failure. A healthy heart pumps the blood quickly through the lungs. The longer the PTT, the less well the heart performs. They examined subjects whose heart muscle no longer contracted well, which is the most common type of heart failure. Before the method can be used, it will need to be automated in order to be both practical and fast.