Open Access Open Badges Research article

Very different performance of the power Doppler modalities of several ultrasound machines ascertained by a microvessel flow phantom

David F Ten Cate1*, Jolanda J Luime1, Myrthe van der Ven1, Johanna MW Hazes1, Klazina Kooiman2, Nico de Jong2 and Johannes G Bosch2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology, Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, Dr. Molewaterplein 50-60, Rotterdam 3015 GE, The Netherlands

2 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, Dr. Molewaterplein 50-60, Rotterdam 3015 GE, The Netherlands

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15:R162  doi:10.1186/ar4345

Published: 24 October 2013



In many patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) subclinical disease activity can be detected with ultrasound (US), especially using power Doppler US (PDUS). However, PDUS may be highly dependent on the type of machine. This could create problems both in clinical trials and in daily clinical practice. To clarify how the PDUS signal differs between machines we created a microvessel flow phantom.


The flow phantom contained three microvessels (150, 1000, 2000 microns). A syringe pump was used to generate flows. Five US machines were used. Settings were optimised to assess the lowest detectable flow for each US machine.


The minimal detectable flow velocities showed very large differences between the machines. Only two of the machines may be able to detect the very low flows in the capillaries of inflamed joints. There was no clear relation with price. One of the lower-end machines actually performed best in all three vessel sizes.


We created a flow phantom to test the sensitivity of US machines to very low flows in small vessels. The sensitivity of the power Doppler modalities of 5 different machines was very different. The differences found between the machines are probably caused by fundamental differences in processing of the PD signal or internal settings inaccessible to users. Machines considered for PDUS assessment of RA patients should be tested using a flow phantom similar to ours. Within studies, only a single machine type should be used.