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Sharp Health News

Your brain in sound and pictures (video)

May 26, 2016

The screen is black. A “swoosh, swoosh” sound is heard, like crashing waves on a stormy sea. And then, there it is on the once blank screen: blurry, gray lines punctuated by undulating pulsations of color — blue, orange, red — like an oil slick on water.

Transcranial Doppler ultrasound imaging is a tool used to see blood flow inside the brain. Sharp Grossmont Hospital offers this technology for patients at the bedside.

“Sharp Grossmont Hospital is one of a handful of accredited vascular labs in San Diego,” says Crissy Engfelt, lead vascular ultrasound technologist for Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “We are excited to add this innovation to our suite of tools to assess patients’ vascular health.”

Depending on the case, transcranial Doppler ultrasound imaging can be used to monitor blood flow in the brain during surgeries, as well as diagnose or monitor certain patients with stroke, bleeding in the brain, constricted or tangled blood vessels, brain death, and other cranial conditions and diseases.

Unlike its cousin — transcranial Doppler ultrasound (sans imaging) or “blind” ultrasound — the latest technology allows clinicians to view blood flow in the brain in real time , as opposed to only sound wave interpretations.

“Without the blood flow images, you would have to make an educated guess about how the blood is flowing and what problems may be present,” says Engfelt. “With transcranial Doppler ultrasound imaging, you can actually see what is going on.”

How it works
The ultrasound machine is portable, so that the exam can happen right at the patient’s bedside. It is equipped with a monitor, computer system and handheld transducer. A technologist first applies gel on the skin over the area of the brain to be viewed; this usually is located on the back of the neck, above the cheekbone, in front of the ear or above the eyelid.

The transducer picks up sound waves from blood cells flowing through the arteries in the brain. Characteristics of these sound waves are analyzed by the computer to produce a real-time image of blood flow. The exam usually takes 20 to 30 minutes.

According to Engfelt, the technology offers a noninvasive way to view blood flow compared to other methods, such as an angiogram, which is an X-ray of blood vessels that requires injecting a special dye into a patient and threading a tube and camera through their vessels.

“Being able to wheel the ultrasound machine right up to the patient’s bed for this painless exam allows the patient to remain in his or her own room, rather than having to be transferred to a procedural suite,” says Shelley Berthiaume, former manager of the Heart and Vascular program for Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “We hope that this tool will make the patient experience at Sharp Grossmont even more satisfying.”

For the media: To talk with a Sharp doctor about transcranial Doppler ultrasound imaging, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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