Echocardiography, also known as an ultrasound of the heart, is a diagnostic test used to examine the heart by creating images out of sound waves. This helps determine the size and shape of the heart, as well as how well the different components are functioning. The results of the test are often used to diagnose high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects, aneurysms, or other heart conditions.
The Purpose of Echocardiography
An echocardiogram can be used to examine:
- The size of the heart
- The strength of the heart muscles
- Heart valve malfunctions
- Heart structure abnormalities
- Problems in the aorta
- Blood clots or tumors
Types of Echocardiography
There are several different types of echocardiography, used to diagnose different conditions. All procedures are minimally invasive and may be performed during a cardiac stress test or as a routine pregnancy exam.
- Transthoracic echocardiogram - This is the most common type of echocardiogram test. In this procedure, a transducer is placed on the chest and emits high frequency sound waves to produce an ultrasound image.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram - For this procedure, the transducer is inserted down the throat into the esophagus.
- Stress echocardiogram - Stress echo testing involves exercising on a treadmill while you are closely monitored, with ultrasound images captured before and after the exercise. The test will aid physicians in the detection of coronary artery disease, evaluate your hearts response to activity and the effectiveness of your cardiac treatment plan. In some cases, where physical exercise is not possible, your doctor may choose to administer a medication (Dobutamine) to simulate the physical demands on your heart.
- Dobutamine stress echocardiogram - This is another type of stress test. Instead of having the patient exercise, a drug, which stimulates the heart, is administered to the patient.
- Intravascular ultrasound - This procedure is performed during cardiac catheterization: the transducer is threaded through the blood vessels of the heart.
Benefits of Echocardiography
An echocardiogram is a painless procedure performed in your doctor's office in less than an hour. You may be required to fast for eight hours before the exam in order for a special dye to be visible within the heart. The images of the heart are shown on a video monitor in real time for the doctor and patient to view during the exam. The results are fully analyzed by your doctor after the exam. There are no risks associated with an echocardiogram, and patients can return to their normal activities immediately after the exam.