>Whose Line is it Anyway? – PoCUS in a Patient with Dyspnea

Medical Student Clinical Pearl – March 2020

Nguyet (Na) Nguyen

MD Class of 2021
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Reviewed and Edited by Dr. David Lewis

All case histories are illustrative and not based on any individual


Case Report

ID: 60 y/o M with dyspnea presenting to the ED late evening

HPI: Patient complained of increasing SOB starting the morning on day of presentation, with a worsening 3 days of non-productive cough. No chest pain or other cardiac features. No complaint suggestive of URTI or GI illness. Patient was given Atrovent and Ventolin en route by EMS, and was allegedly moving more air into his lungs after this intervention. Patient reports no ankle swelling, paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, but reports using 2 pillows to elevate himself when sleeping. Patient reports no fever, unexplained weight loss or fatigue.

Past medical history includes chronic back pain, DM, atrial fibrillation, peripheral DM-related ulcers, chronic kidney disease, BPH, colon cancer with hepatic metastases. Past surgical history significant for 5x CABG, liver and colon resection.

His medications are amitriptyline 10mg PO qhs, acetaminophen 650mg PO BID, dutasteride 0.5mg PO daily, ferrous sulfate 300mg PO daily, furosemide 40mg PO BID, metformin 500mg BID, pantoprazole 40mg PO BID, pregabalin 150mg PO BID, primidone 125mg PO daily, rosuvastatin 40mg PO qhs, rivaroxaban 15mg PO daily.

He has a distant 10 pack-years smoking history, drinks alcohol occasionally, and does not use recreational drugs. The patient lives with his wife in their own home.

Physical exam: Patient was markedly pale, non-diaphoretic, in tripod position with increased work of breathing. His temperature was 36.9, regular pulse rate at 105, respiratory rate 22, oxygen saturation 90% on room air and a nebulizer mask through which he was receiving aerosolized Atrovent and Ventolin. His BP was 125/78mmHg.

Cardiovascular exam revealed distant S1S2 in a chest with no visible deformity. His JVD was at the level of the sternal angle, there was no pedal edema bilateral. Capillary refill was 3 seconds bilateral at the thumbs. Percussion revealed no focal dullness, however on auscultation, basal crackles were heard more prominently in the right lung base, though also present on the left. There were also wheezes noted in the upper lobes heard in the anterior chest. Abdomen was soft, non-distended, non-tender. Neurological exam unremarkable.

Investigations: ECG showed sinus tachycardia with a LBBB, bloods drawn for routine labs, VBG, lactate, CXR ordered.

Differential diagnosis: AECOPD vs congestive heart failure.

PoCUS (Arrival Time + 10 mins): B-lines were observed in both lungs when a curvilinear probe was placed over different areas of the anterior chest. A small pleural effusion was also noted at the bottom of the right lung. B-lines represent increased fluid in an area of the lung, and given different clinical contexts maye represent pulmonary edema, pneumonia, or pulmonary contusion. In this case the most likely explanation for bilateral diffuse B-Lines is CHF and Pulmonary Edema. 

Working Diagnosis (Arrival Time + 10 mins): CHF and Pulmonary Edema

Management (Arrival Time + 15 mins): Pending transfer fo CXR and results of investigations the patient was treated with intravenous diuretics. He passed 500mls of urine and his symptoms improved considerably.


Investigations Results (Arrival Time + 45 mins): leukocytes 6.4, hemoglobin 83, platelet 165, sodium 140, potassium 5/0, chloride 101, creatinine 120, urea 11.7, glucose 17.0. Venous blood gas showed pH 7.31, pCO2 555, HCO3- 28 and lactate 2.7.

CXR (Arrival Time + 45 mins):

CXR was similar to above, this image is from: https://radiopaedia.org/cases/acute-pulmonary-oedema-6


Final impression: Congestive heart failure

What are B Lines?

These are the ultrasound equivalent of Kerley-B lines often reported on chest X-ray, which indicate edema in the lungs. For an exam to be positive (i.e indicative of pathology), one needs to see a minimum of 3 B-lines per view. B-lines look like flashlight beams traveling undisrupted down the entire ultrasound screen, as seen in the images above obtained during the exam.

These need to be distinguished from other artifacts such as ‘A-lines’ and ‘comet tails’. A-lines are seen in normal lungs. These are ‘repetitive reverberation’ artifacts of the normal pleura in motion. (Figure 1)(1)

‘Comet tails’- reported first by Lichenstein et al. in 1998 (although he was describing B-Lines in this paper) (Figure 2) (1), are ‘short, hypoechoic artifacts’ that only descend vertically partially down the screen. These are normal lung artifacts. This paper explains “a common misunderstanding in lung ultrasound” nomenclature that stems from Lichtenstein’s original paper.

Download pdf


From: https://www.mdedge.com/emergencymedicine/article/96697/imaging/emergency- ultrasound-lung-assessment


More on Comet Tails Artifact in this post from LitFL:

Comet tail artefact




There are multiple protocols that guide the ultrasound technique (4) , some of which are:

  • Lichenstein et al (1998): longitudinal scans of anterior and lateral chest walls of patients in semi- recumbent position. Positive test defined as bilateral multiple B-lines diffuse anterolateral or lateral. The protocol had reported sensitivity (true positive) of 100%, and specificity (true negative) 92% for cardiogenic pulmonary edema. Blue Protocol (2015)
  • Liteplo et al (2008): anterior and lateral chest walls with patient supine: each chest divided into 4 zones (anterior, lateral, upper and lower). Positive test: pathologic pattern found in >1 zone on each side, with both sides involved.
  • Volpicelli et al. (2008): longitudinal scans of supine patients with chest divided into 11 areas (3 anterior R, 3 lateral R, 2 anterior L, 3 lateral L) to obtain score 0-11. Scores strongly correlated with radiologic and BNP (lab marker of CHF) at presentation.




What is the Evidence?

Al Deeb et al. conducted a systematic review and analysis of prospective cohort and prospective case-control studies in the ED, IDU, inpatient wards and prehospital settings (n = 1075). This was published in Acad Emerg Med (2014), which reported a sensitivity of 94.1% for using B-lines to diagnosis acute cardiogenic pulmonary edema (ACPE), and a specificity of 92.4% for patients with a moderate- high pretest probability for ACPE.

The SIMEU Multicenter study reported in 2015 reported a significantly higher accuracy (97% sensitivity and 97.4% specificity) with an approach incorporating lung ultrasound (LUS) in differentiating acute decompensated heart failure (ADHF) and non-cardiac causes of acute dyspnea, compared to approaches using the initial clinical workup (past medical history, history of presenting illness, physical examination, ECG, ABG), chest X-ray alone and natriuretic peptides.

Martindale et al. reported in 2016 (Academic Emergency Medicine) high positive likelihood ratio of pulmonary edema observed on lung ultrasound and low negative likelihood ratio of B-line pattern on lung US in affirming the presence of acute heart failure, after a systematic review and analysis of 57 prospective and cross-sectional studies (n = 1,918).

A useful Systematic Review “Emergency department ultrasound for the detection of B-lines in the early diagnosis of acute decompensated heart failure: a systematic review and meta-analysis ” from McGivery et al from SJRHEM (7), was published in 2018.


Learning Point

For a patient presenting to the ER with dyspnea, using PoCUS to observe 3 or more B-lines in two bilateral lung zones +/- pleural effusion can rapidly guide an accurate diagnosis of acute congestive heart failure.



  1. Taylor, T., Meer, J., Beck, S. Emerg Med. (2015) https://www.mdedge.com/emergencymedicine/article/96697/imaging/emergency- ultrasound-lung-assessment Last accessed Feb 29, 2020
  2. Lee, FCY, Jenssen, C., Dietrich, CF Med Ultrason (2018); 20(3): 379-384
  3. Ang SH. & Andrus P Curr Cardiol Rev. 2012 May; 8(2): 123-136https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3406272/
  4. Al. Deeb M., Barbic S., Featherstone R., Dankoff J., Barbic D. Acad Emerg Med 2014 Aug; 21(8): 843-52 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25176151
  5. Pivetta E et al. Chest. 2015 Jul; 148(1): 202-210 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25654562/
  6. Martindale JL, Wakai A, Collins SP, Levy PD, Diercks D, Hiestand BC, Fermann GJ, deSouza I, Sinert R, Acad Emerg Med. 2016 Mar; 23(3): 223-242 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26910112
  7. McGivery K, Atkinson P, Lewis D, et al. Emergency department ultrasound for the detection of B-lines in the early diagnosis of acute decompensated heart failure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. CJEM. 2018;20(3):343‐352. doi:10.1017/cem.2018.27


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