Echocardiography, also known as an ultrasound of the heart, is a diagnostic test that uses sound waves to examine the heart. The test helps determine the size and shape of the heart, as well as how well its components are functioning. The results of the test are often used to diagnose high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects, an aneurysm, or other heart conditions.

The Purpose of Echocardiography

An echocardiogram can be used to examine the following:

  • The size of the heart
  • The strength of the heart muscles
  • A malfunction of heart valves
  • An abnormality of the structure of the heart
  • Aorta
  • Blood clot or tumor

Types of Echocardiography

There are several types of echocardiograms, 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

A transthoracic echocardiogram is the most common type of echocardiogram test. In this procedure, a transducer is placed on the chest emitting high frequency sound waves to produce an ultrasound image.

Transesophageal Echogardiogram

A transesophageal echogardiogram examines the throat to the esophagus.

Stress Echocardiogram

Stress echocardiogram has the patient using exercise equipment, such as a treadmill so the physician can assess the heart when the heart is stressed.

Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram

Dobutamine stress echocardiogram uses a drug to stimulate the heart.

Intravascular Ultrasound

Intravascular ultrasound is performed during a cardiac catheterization. The transducer is threaded through the blood vessels of the heart.

Considerations of Echocardiography

An echocardiogram is a painless procedure performed in your doctor's office in less than an hour. Depending on the type of exam, the patient 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 the doctor after the exam. There are no risks associated with an echocardiogram, and patients can return to their normal activities immediately after the exam.

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