What is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is a safe, non-invasive ultrasound imaging procedure used to assess cardiac function. Echocardiography allows doctors to visualize the anatomy, structure, and function of the heart. The echocardiogram can show all four chambers of the heart, the heart valves, the blood vessels entering and leaving the heart, and the sack around the heart. It can lead to a quick diagnosis of heart valve problems or abnormal flow within the heart.
What is diagnostic ultrasound and how does it work?
Because it can be used in the most delicate conditions without major side effects, ultrasound has become one of the most popular diagnostic methods among both patients and physicians. Diagnostic ultrasound allows physicians to diagnose without invading the body with dyes, radiation or exploratory surgery.
Ultrasound imaging is based on the same principles involved in the sonar used by bats. During an exam, a sonographer moves a transducer over the part of the body to be imaged. The transducer functions as both a loudspeaker (to create the sounds) and a microphone (to record them). High-frequency sound waves reflect off internal structures (soft tissue, organs and blood flow), producing echoes that are processed into an image displayed on the ultrasound system monitor.
How the Test is Performed?
Depending on the type of exam, you may be instructed to lie down or sit upright on an examining table. The sonographer will apply gel on your skin and press the transducer firmly against your body, moving it until the desired images are captured.Transesophageal echo involves the passage of a very small tube down the food pipe, or esophagus. Because the esophagus lies in close proximity (behind) the heart, outstanding images of the heart can be obtained. To reduce the amount of discomfort that a patient might have from swallowing the probe, patients are often given oral sprays of novocaine-like medicine, as well as intravenous medicine to relax them and reduce any discomfort.The sonographer sees the images on the monitor immediately. Often the patient is able to see them, as well.The examination usually takes approximately 30 minutes.
Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)
Your health care provider may choose to perform a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE):
- If the regular or transthoracic echocardiogram is unclear due to a barrel chest, lung disease, or obesity
- If a much clearer picture is needed of a certain area
With TEE, the back of your throat is numbed and a scope is inserted down your throat. On the end of the scope is an ultrasonic device that an experienced technician will guide down to the lower part of the esophagus. It is used to obtain a more clear two-dimensional echocardiogram of your heart.
How to Prepare for the Test
You should wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing for your exam. Other preparation depends on the type of examination you will have. For some scans, your doctor may instruct you not to eat or drink for as many as 12 hours before your appointment.
Who performs the exam and who interprets the results?
A cardiac sonographer, a health care professional specially trained and certified in ultrasound imaging of the heart, usually performs the procedure. The results are reviewed and interpreted by a cardiologist. In some cases, the cardiologist performs the exam and interprets the results.
How the Test Will Feel?
You will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist up and lie on an examination table on your back. Electrodes will be placed on your chest to allow for an ECG to be done. A gel will be spread on your chest and then the transducer will be applied. You will feel a slight pressure on your chest from the transducer. You may be asked to breathe in a certain way or to roll over onto your left side.
Why the Test is Performed?
This test is performed to evaluate the valves and chambers of the heart in a noninvasive way. The echocardiogram allows doctors to diagnose, evaluate, and monitor:
- Heart murmurs
- Abnormal heart valves
- The pumping function of the heart for people with heart failure
- Damage to the heart muscle in patients who have had heart attacks
- Atrial fibrillation
- Infection in the sac around the heart (pericarditis)
- Infection on or around the heart valves (infectious endocarditis)
- The source of a blood clot or emboli after a strokeor TIA
- Congenital heart disease
- Pulmonary hypertension
A normal echocardiogram reveals normal heart valves and chambers and normal heart wall movement.
What happens if the doctor finds something of concern?
The doctor will explain the findings of the echocardiogram to your referring physician. Then additional tests may be performed or treatment may be recommended. Treatment for heart problems may include medication, surgery and/or lifestyle modification.
*Source: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia