Echocardiogram Procedures

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According to the Mayo Clinic, an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) uses high frequency sound waves to create images of your heart. This commonly used test allows doctors to see the heart beating and to observe its many structures. These images can help detect possible irregularities in the heart muscle and valves. These are several types of echocardiograms that can provide valuable information on the various facets of your heart health. Most echocardiograms take approximately 30 minutes.

Effects

An echocardiogram can detect damaged heart valves and other conditions that may cause your heart chambers to enlarge. It can also determine the pumping strength of your heart and identify whether all parts of your heart are supplying equal force to its pumping action.

Abnormal blood flow patterns as well as many heart defects can be diagnosed with the aid of an echocardiogram. There are four basic types of echocardiograms available depending on the specific type of information your doctor seeks.

Transthroacic and Transesophageal Echocardiograms

A conventional, non-invasive test is called a transthroacic echocardiogram. This procedure uses sound wave echoes from an ultrasound beam aimed at your chest. Since this test doesn’t produce a high quality image of your heart, your doctor may suggest performing a transesophageal echocardiogram.

During this procedure, a bendable tube containing a transducer is funneled down your throat and into your esophagus providing more clear images of your heart.

Doppler and Stress Echocardiograms

A doppler echocardiogram can help your doctor measure the speed and direction of the blood flow in your heart by using sound waves that rebound off blood cells.

A stress echocardiogram records ultrasound images of your heart prior to and immediately after walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.

Preparation

There are no special preparations required prior to a conventional transthoracic echocardiogram. If you will be undergoing transesophageal or stress echocardiogram, you will be asked to refrain from eating a few hours prior to the test.

Due to the sedating medication you will receive for a transesophageal echocardiogram, you’ll be unable to drive and will need someone to take you home following the test.

Procedure

A standard echocardiogram can be performed in a hospital or in your doctor’s office. A technician will place sticky patches called electrodes to your body that will help identify and conduct your heart’s electrical currents.

The lights may be lowered so the technician can get a good view of the image on the monitor. There may be a “whooshing” sound from the machine as it records the blood flow through your heart.

If you are undergoing a transesophageal echocardiogram, your throat will be anesthetized with a numbing gel or spray.

During a transthoracic echocardiogram, you may be asked to breathe in a particular manner or to move onto your left side.

Results

If your echocardiogram results are normal, no additional tests may be necessary. If the test was abnormal, you may be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist) for further assessment. Some abnormalities are minor while others indicate serious heart disease. Treatment will vary depends on the outcome of the echocardiogram and your individual symptoms.

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