What Is It?
An echocardiogram is used by physicians and cardiologists to product images of the heart with the use of sound waves. This is a common test used to identify a wide array of heart abnormalities in the valves and muscle. There are several types of procedures used here at Heart & Health Medical that pose minimal risks to patients.
Why Are They Performed?
Echocardiograms are ordered for patients by the physician if there is suspicion of a problem with the heart chambers, valves, or the heart’s normal ability to pump blood to the body. Additionally, an echocardiogram is used for unborn babies to detect congenital heart defects.
This is the non-invasive, standard echocardiogram performed to record the sound wave echoes produced by the heart using a transducer emitting an ultrasound beam to the heart through the chest. The echoes are converted into moving images by a computer onto a monitor. When the ribs or lungs block the view of the heart, intravenous dye in small amounts may be used to improve the images. Few risks are associated with the transthoracic echocardiogram. Normally, the only discomfort is when the electrodes are removed from your chest by the technician after the procedure and the discomfort is similar to that of pulling off a band-aid or adhesive bandage.
A stress echocardiogram is used to take ultrasound images of the heart with a transducer immediately before and after physical activity, such as riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill. This test pinpoints heart problems occurring in patients only during physical activity, particularly for those with problems in the coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle. If the patient does not have the ability to exercise then an injection of medication may be used to force the heart to work as if in exercise mode. The risks are associated more with the medications and exercise rather than the test itself. This risk is normally just a temporary irregular heartbeat and serious complications, such as cardiac attacks are rare.
For those patients that are not able to get the clear images necessary of the heart with the use of a standard transthoracic echocardiogram, the transesophageal echocardiogram is recommended. During this particular procedure, the transducer is inserted into a flexible tube and guided into the esophagus to get the detailed images needed of the heart. The throat is numbed and patients are relaxed with medications to keep them comfortable. Few risks are posed with the transesophageal echocardiogram and the most common discomfort is a sore throat for a few hours after the procedure is performed. In rare cases, the flexible tube may scrape the throat. During the procedure, oxygen levels are monitored to ensure there are no breathing problems as a result of sedation medications.
What To Expect
Most last an hour or less. At Heart & Health Medical, the health of our patients is priority. After the echocardiogram is performed, there may not be any need for further testing. Our team of cardiologists is consulted and involved with patients requiring additional testing. Treatment plans vary upon the echocardiogram results, the symptoms, and the specific signs for each patient. There are times that a repeat echocardiogram is required several months later. Other diagnostic tests may be used as well, including an coronary angiogram or CT scan (cardiac computerized tornography).