Is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is a test that uses sound waves to produce live
images of your heart. This test allows your doctor to monitor how your heart
and its valves are functioning.
An echocardiogram can help spot blood clots in the heart, fluid
in the sac around the heart, and problems with the aorta (the main artery connected to the heart).
It’s a key test in determining the health of the heart muscle,
especially after a heart attack. It can also reveal heart defects in unborn
An echocardiogram is painless. There are only risks in very rare
an Echocardiogram Is Performed
Your doctor may order an echocardiogram if you’re showing signs
of heart problems. For example, they may want to inspect the heart valves or
chambers if you have an irregular heartbeat, or check your heart’s ability to
pump. Your doctor might have discovered an abnormality from inconclusive testing
or while listening to your heartbeat though a stethoscope.
These are all reasons your doctor would order an echocardiogram.
There are several different types of echocardiograms.
Transthoracic Echocardiography (TTE)
This is the most common type of echocardiography. It’s painless
A device called a transducer will be placed on your chest over
your heart. The transducer sends
ultrasound waves through your chest toward your heart. A computer interprets
the sound waves as they bounce back to the transducer. This produces the live
images that are shown on a monitor.
Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)
If a transthoracic
echocardiogram doesn’t produce definitive images, your doctor may
recommend a transesophageal echocardiogram. In this procedure, a much smaller
transducer is guided through a thin, flexible tube in your mouth and down your
throat. Your throat will be numbed to make this procedure easier.
This tube is guided through your esophagus (the tube that connects your throat to your
stomach). Your doctor can get a better view of any problems with the transducer
behind your heart.
Stress echocardiogram uses
a traditional transthoracic echocardiogram. However, it’s done after exercise
or in tandem with medication to make your heart beat faster. This allows your
doctor to test how your heart performs under stress.
echocardiogram uses either transesophageal or transthoracic
echocardiography to create a 3-D image of your heart. This involves multiple images
from different angles. It’s used prior to heart valve surgery or to diagnose
heart problems in children.
A fetal echocardiography is
used on expectant mothers sometime during weeks 18 to 22 of pregnancy. The
transducer is placed over the woman’s belly to check the fetus for heart
problems. The test is considered safe for an unborn child because it doesn’t
use radiation (unlike X-rays).
Risks of an Echocardiogram
Echocardiograms are considered very safe. Unlike other imaging
techniques such as X-rays, echocardiograms don’t use radiation.
A transthoracic echocardiogram carries no risk. There is a chance
for slight discomfort — similar to pulling off a Band-Aid — when the electrodes
are removed from your skin.
There’s a rare chance the tube used in a transesophageal
echocardiogram may scrape the side of your esophagus and cause irritation. The
most common side effect is a sore throat or feeling a bit funny due to the
sedative used in the procedure.
The medication or exercise used to get your heart rate up in a
stress echocardiogram could temporarily cause an irregular heartbeat. The risk
of a serious reaction is reduced because the procedure — including the physical
activity and medication — are supervised.
to Prepare for an Echocardiogram
A transthoracic echocardiogram requires no special preparation.
If you undergo a transesophageal echocardiogram, your doctor may
instruct you to fast for a few hours before the test. This is to prevent you
from vomiting during the test. You also may not be able to drive for a few
hours after the test due to the sedatives.
If your doctor has ordered a stress echocardiogram, wear clothes
and shoes that are comfortable to exercise in.
Your doctor will review your results after the test. Your test
results may reveal abnormalities such as:
- damage to the heart muscle
- heart defects
- heart size
- pumping strength
- valve problems
Your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist (heart specialist) if
they’re concerned about the results of your test.
Your doctor may order more tests or physical examinations before
they’re able to give you a diagnosis. If you’re diagnosed with a heart
condition, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan that
works best for you.