Purpose: Greater visual contrast between calculi and tissue would improve ultrasound (US) imaging of urolithiasis and potentially expand clinical use. The color Doppler twinkling artifact has been suggested to provide enhanced contrast of stones compared with brightness mode (B-mode) imaging, but results are variable. This work provides the first quantitative measure of stone contrast in humans for B-mode and color Doppler mode, forming the basis to improve US for the detection of stones. Materials and Methods: Using a research ultrasound system, B-mode imaging was tuned for detecting stones by applying a single transmit angle and reduced signal compression. Stone twinkling with color Doppler was tuned by using low-frequency transmit pulses, longer pulse durations, and a high-pulse repetition frequency. Data were captured from 32 subjects, with 297 B-mode and Doppler images analyzed from 21 subjects exhibiting twinkling signals. The signal to clutter ratio (i.e., stone to background tissue) (SCR) was used to compare the contrast of a stone on B-mode with color Doppler, and the contrast between stone twinkling and blood-flow signals within the kidney. Results: The stone was the brightest object in only 54% of B-mode images and 100% of Doppler images containing stone twinkling. On average, stones were isoechoic with the tissue clutter on B-mode (SCR = 0 dB). Stone twinkling averaged 37 times greater contrast than B-mode (16 dB, p < 0.0001) and 3.5 times greater contrast than blood-flow signals (5.5 dB, p = 0.088). Conclusions: This study provides the first quantitative measure of US stone to tissue contrast in humans. Stone twinkling contrast is significantly greater than the contrast of a stone on B-mode. There was also a trend of stone twinkling signals having greater contrast than blood-flow signals in the kidney. Dedicated optimization of B-mode and color Doppler stone imaging could improve US detection of stones.
- Twinkling artifact
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