In the last years, new trends on patient diagnosis for admission in cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) have been observed, shifting from acute myocardial infarction or acute heart failure to non-cardiac diseases such as sepsis, acute respiratory failure or acute kidney injury. Moreover, thanks to the advances in scientific knowledge and higher availability, there has been increasing use of positive pressure mechanical ventilation which has its implications on the heart. Therefore, there is a growing need for Cardiac intensivists to quickly, noninvasively and repeatedly evaluate various hemodynamic conditions and the response to therapy.
Transthoracic critical care echocardiography (CCE) currently represents an essential tool in CICU, as it is used to evaluate biventricular function and complications following acute coronary syndromes, identify the mechanisms of circulatory failure, acute valvular pathologies, tailoring and titrating intravenous treatment or mechanical circulatory support. This could be completed with trans-esophageal echocardiography (TOE), advanced echocardiography and lung ultrasound to provide a thorough evaluation and monitoring of CICU patients. However, CCE could sometimes be challenging as the acquisition of good-quality images is limited by mechanical ventilation, suboptimal patient position or recent surgery with drains on the chest. Moreover, there are some technical caveats that one should bear in mind while performing CCE in order to optimize its use and avoid misleading findings. The aim of this review is to highlight the key role of CCE, providing an updated overview of its main applications and possible pitfalls in order to facilitate its use in CICU for clinical decision-making.