Ultrasound scanner measures blood pressure from many points in body
4 July 2011
Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology, together
with Italian company Esaote, have developed a new technique to measure
blood pressure using ultrasound.
Using an ultrasound scanner, which is well known from pregnancy
ultrasound scans, they will soon be able to measure the blood
pressure pulse at many points in the body. The ultrasound scan can
show blood flow and the blood vessel wall motion, from which the
blood pressure can be derived using a mathematical model. This will
provide much more information about the vascular system than the
traditional measurement method using an inflatable cuff on the arm.
As a result, physicians will be able in the future to quickly gain
an overall impression of the condition of the heart and blood
vessels. This is in line with the current trend in healthcare with
an increasing focus on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. The
results were published last month in the journal Ultrasound in
Medicine and Biology.
“Scientists have for years been looking for a non-invasive method
to measure the blood pressure pulses at highly localized points in
the body”, explains TU/e researcher dr. Nathalie Bijnens of the
Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“The usual method is to insert a catheter with a pressure sensor.
But that’s an invasive procedure, and not suitable for preventive
diagnostics. There’s also the traditional method using an inflatable
arm cuff. But that doesn’t allow any conclusions to be drawn about —
for example — the blood pressure in the carotid artery. In this
method, the cuff is inflated until the blood flow in the arm is
stopped, allowing the systolic and diastolic (maximum and minimum)
values in the arm to be measured. That means you won’t find anyone
willing to have the blood pressure in their neck measured using an
Nathalie Bijnens and Frans van de Vosse of
Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) presenting their new blood
pressure measurement technique.
Photo: Bart van Overbeeke.
The new technique uses ultrasound to make patient-friendly blood
pressure measurements at many points in the body. All that is needed
is to apply a small amount of gel so that the ultrasound scanner
makes good contact with the skin.
The key to the new technique is above all the sophisticated
signal processing. The researchers are able to achieve good
visualization of the blood flow and the blood vessel wall motion,
from which the blood pressure can be derived, by means of a
They can also see the variations in blood pressure and flow in
time as a result of the beating of the heart. The simultaneous
knowledge of pressure and flow also provides information about
‘downstream’ parts of the vascular system. The new technique will
allow physicians to carry out preventive investigations of the
cardiovascular system, for example, and to monitor the development
of diseases such as atherosclerosis, thrombosos or aneurysms
(dangerous dilations of a blood vessel).
The researchers published their results last month in the
scientific journal Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology. The
method was first tested on elastic plastic tubes, and after that on
pigs’ carotid arteries from an abattoir, with good results. The
technique is currently being tested on volunteers, in advance of
clinical tests with patients.
The results are promising. It is still expected to take several
years before the technique can be used in clinical practice, for
example in family doctors’ surgeries, says Bijnens. “By performing a
simple scan, the physician can detect vascular disease in an early
stage and decide for a preventive treatment.”
This new method for measuring blood pressure is part of a new
direction for the research group led by prof. Frans van de Vosse.
The group’s work focuses on making mathematical models of the
vascular system. “For example we have developed a model to locate
the best places to enter veins in the arms of dialysis patients”,
says Van de Vosse. “But that model needs detailled input, which is
why we decided to develop a measurement method ourselves.”
Toward Noninvasive Blood Pressure Assessment in Arteries by Using
Ultrasound. Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, May 2011. DOI: