Review of the main medical applications of infrared thermography
We are analyzing today one of the most cited publications in the field of infrared thermography and its application in humans. This is the review carried out by Lahiri and collaborators back in 2012, in which a careful description is made of the main medical applications of thermal imaging up to 2012.
Medical applications of infrared thermography index
Lahiri and collaborators (2012) published a review analyzing the main applications of thermography into the medical field. They established an index with different medical applications where infrared thermography has been successfully used. This index is composed of:
- Breast cancer detection
- Diagnosis of diabetes neuropathy and peripheral vascular disorders
- Fever screening
- Dental diagnosis
- Dermatological applications
- Blood pressure monitoring
- Diagnosis of rheumatic diseases
- Diagnosis of dry eye and ocular diseases
- Diagnosis of liver diseases
- Treatment of kidney
- Detect problems associated with heart operation
- Detect problems associated with gynecology and neonatal physiology.
- Personality testing and brain imaging.
As Lahiri et al. (2012) mentioned, infrared thermography had the potential to monitoring body temperature in a fast, passive, non-contact and non-invasive alternative. The aim is to quantify one of the values of the body’s homeostasis. Infrared thermography can detect thermal asymmetries or abnormal body temperatures that might indicate illness or a potential health risk.
Main applications of medical thermography
In the last decades, we have witnessed a steady increase in the utility of thermal imaging to obtain correlations between the thermal response to exercise physiology and skin temperature. Previously, we find a lot of clinical studies made about the application of thermography in the medical field. Breast cancer detection using thermography is the most popular and controversial application, but besides we find other pathology uses as diabetes neuropathy or peripheral vascular disorders.
It has also been used to detect problems associated with gynecology, kidney transplantation, dermatology, cardiology, neonatal physiology, fever screening (trend topic during episodes as the COVID-19 pandemic) and brain imaging.
“…With the advent of modern infrared cameras, data acquisition and processing techniques, it is now possible to have real time high resolution thermographic images, which is likely to surge further research in this field…”Lahiri et al. (2012)
The importance of image processing and standardized protocol
Factors as the thermal camera quality, the standardized protocol used or the thermal image processing software play an important role in the medical application of thermal imaging.
In this sense, the new methods of analysis and more accurate software solutions allows to analyze thermal images in less time and better reliability results (ICC 0.96) than traditional and manual methods. For example, ThermoHuman software has proven effective in saving processing time (86% less time) and near-perfect reliability and reproducibility results (Requena et al., 2020). In addition to that, this software has just received the CE medical certification, a demanding requirement that very few processing software solutions have.
Regarding the most convenient guideline, the TISEM protocol is one of the most popular and recent consensus describing the key factors to take into account when performing human evaluation with thermography.
Lahiri et al. (2012) concluded that with the advent of newer generation of infrared detectors, infrared thermal imaging is becoming a more accurate alternate medical diagnostic tool for abnormal temperature pattern measurements.
Despite the controversial use of thermal imaging in the medical sector, studies so far indicate that infrared thermography can be successfully used for diagnosis of breast cancer, diabetes, dentistry, diabetic neuropathy and other pathologies. In coming years we will probably witness an increase on the use of infrared themography in medical field.
Requena-Bueno, L., Priego-Quesada, J. I., Jimenez-Perez, I., Gil-Calvo, M., & Pérez-Soriano, P. (2020). Validation of ThermoHuman automatic thermographic software for assessing foot temperature before and after running. Journal of Thermal Biology, 92, 102639. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtherbio.2020.102639