4D flow imaging with MRI
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has become an important tool for the clinical evaluation of patients with cardiovascular disease. Since its introduction in the late 1980s, 2-dimensional phase contrast MRI (2D PC-MRI) has become a routine part of standard-of-care cardiac MRI for the assessment of regional blood flow in the heart and great vessels. More recently, time-resolved PC-MRI with velocity encoding along all three flow directions and three-dimensional (3D) anatomic coverage (also termed ‘4D flow MRI’) has been developed and applied for the evaluation of cardiovascular hemodynamics in multiple regions of the human body. 4D flow MRI allows for the comprehensive evaluation of complex blood flow patterns by 3D blood flow visualization and flexible retrospective quantification of flow parameters. Recent technical developments, including the utilization of advanced parallel imaging techniques such as k-t GRAPPA, have resulted in reasonable overall scan times, e.g., 8-12 minutes for 4D flow MRI of the aorta and 10-20 minutes for whole heart coverage. As a result, the application of 4D flow MRI in a clinical setting has become more feasible, as documented by an increased number of recent reports on the utility of the technique for the assessment of cardiac and vascular hemodynamics in patient studies. A number of studies have demonstrated the potential of 4D flow MRI to provide an improved assessment of hemodynamics which might aid in the diagnosis and therapeutic management of cardiovascular diseases. The purpose of this review is to describe the methods used for 4D flow MRI acquisition, post-processing and data analysis. In addition, the article provides an overview of the clinical applications of 4D flow MRI and includes a review of applications in the heart, thoracic aorta and hepatic system.