Original Research

Role of Point-of-Care Ultrasonography in the Evaluation and Management of Kidney Disease

Imaging at the nephrology point of care provides an important and continuously expanding tool to improve diagnostic accuracy in concert with history and physical examination.

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The evaluation of acute kidney injury (AKI) often starts with the classic prerenal, renal, and postrenal causalities, delineating a practical workable approach in its differential diagnosis. Accordingly, the history, physical examination, urinalysis, and kidney-bladder sonography are standard resources in the initial approach to renal disease assessment. Ultrasonography has a well-established role as an important adjuvant for postrenal diagnosis of renal failure. Nevertheless, most of the causes of AKI are prerenal and renal.

Some etiologies of kidney injury are sequelae of systemic diseases in which sonography can be diagnostically analogous to the history and physical examination. Furthermore, ultrasonography may be informative in various clinical scenarios, for example, patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD). In this narrative review, the contribution of point-of-care (POC) sonography to the evaluation and management of AKI, CKD, and associated diseases are explored beyond the traditional sonogram uses for kidney biopsy, central catheter placement, and/or screening of hydronephrosis.

Two important elements made possible the incorporation of POC sonography into nephrology practice.1,2 First, the development of handheld reliable and portable ultrasound devices and, second, the derived capacity of POC sonography to obtain objective signs of physiologic and/or pathophysiologic phenomena. The latter clinical application is realized through the incorporation of POC protocols into the modified focused assessment with sonography for trauma (FAST) examination in conjunction with limited echocardiography and lung sonography (Figure 1).

The original FAST protocol was developed by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine and the American College of Emergency Physicians.3

These protocols have allowed the evaluation of extracellular volume, which is important to measure for the diagnosis and management of renal diseases. For example, the evaluation of lung water by POC ultrasonography for patients with ESRD is emerging as a promising tool. In a study of patients with ESRD undergoing hemodialysis, POC ultrasonography detected moderate-to-severe lung congestion in 45% of patients, most of whom (71%) were asymptomatic. Two years of follow-up of patients was associated with 3 to 4 times greater risk of heart attack and death, respectively, compared with individuals without congestion on sonography.4-6 Thus, ultrasound assessment of lung water in patients with ESRD may prove to be an essential tool to assure an adequate ultrafiltration and improve patient outcomes.

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Acute Kidney Injury


The physical examination provides evaluation of effective arterial circulatory flow (EACF) and is clinically useful in the evaluation of prerenal azotemia. The utility is more obvious in the extremes of EACF. However, in the case of blood volume losses of > 10% or the physiologic equivalent, heart rate, blood pressure, skin turgor, urinary output, and capillary refill may be within normal limits. Obvious changes in these parameters during the physical examination are considered relatively late manifestations.7-10 Therefore, prerenal failure is frequently diagnosed retrospectively after correction of the EACF through use of crystalloids, blood products, vasopressors, inotropic agents, discontinuation of antihypertensive agents, or treatment of its prerenal causes. Certain sonographic maneuvers, performed at the bedside during acute renal injury, may be useful in many patients to evaluate a multitude of prerenal causes of AKI.


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