An echocardiogram is a test that uses ultrasound to take pictures of your heart. Cardiologists use these ultrasound images to look at the valves and chambers of your heart to see how they’re functioning and find any problems.
Your doctor may suggest an echocardiogram to: -Check for problems with the valves or chambers of your heart -Check if heart problems are the cause of symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain -Detect congenital heart defects before birth (fetal echocardiogram) The type of echocardiogram you have depends on the information your doctor needs. There are a 4 types of commonly used echocardiograms. Your doctor will determine the most suitable one for you: 1. Transthoracic echocardiogram 2. Transesophageal echocardiogram 3. Doppler echocardiogram 4. Stress echocardiogram
-To evaluate blood flow across the valves.
-The test can evaluate the size of the chambers, the quality of the valves, measure the heart’s pumping ability, and identify other problems.
-It is a safe and effective way to view the inside of the heart.
Before the test, you will be asked a brief history emphasizing current symptoms and pertinent family history. The procedure depends on the type of echocardiogram that your doctor has selected for you deppending on the type of heart condition being assessed. 1. Transthoracic echocardiogram. When you're lying down, several small sticky sensors called electrodes will be attached to your chest. These will be connected to a machine that monitors your heart rhythm during the test. A lubricating gel will be applied to your chest or directly to the ultrasound probe. You'll be asked to lie on your left side and the probe will be moved across your chest. The probe is attached by a cable to a nearby machine that will display and record the images produced. You will not hear the sound waves produced by the probe, but you may hear a swishing noise during the scan. This is normal and is just the sound of the blood flow through your heart being picked up by the probe.The whole procedure will usually take between 15 and 60 minutes, and you'll normally be able to go home shortly afterwards. 2. Transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE) . A small probe is passed down the throat into your gullet and stomach (your throat will be numbed with local anaesthetic spray and you'll be given a sedative to help you relax); you may need to avoid eating for several hours before this test 3. Stress echocardiogram – An echocardiogram carried out during or just after a period of exercise on a treadmill or exercise bike, or after being given an injection of a medication that makes your heart work harder
No special preparations are necessary for a standard transthoracic echocardiogram. You can eat, drink and take medications as you normally would. If you're having a transesophageal echocardiogram, your doctor will ask you not to eat for several hours beforehand. You also won't be able to drive afterward because of the medication you'll likely receive. Be sure to arrange for a ride home.
After the test is completed, a cardiologist will usually go over the results with you. If your test is normal, no further testing may be needed. Treatment depends on what is found during the test and your specific signs and symptoms.
No risks are involved in a standard transthoracic echocardiogram. You may feel some discomfort from the transducer being held very firmly against your chest. The firmness is necessary to produce the best images of your heart. If you have a transesophageal echocardiogram, your throat may be sore for a few hours afterward. Rarely, the tube may scrape the inside of your throat. Your oxygen level will be monitored during the exam to check for any breathing problems caused by sedation medication. During a stress echocardiogram, exercise or medication — not the echocardiogram itself — may temporarily cause an irregular heartbeat. Serious complications, such as a heart attack, are rare.
I’m allergic to CT contrast. Can I receive echo contrast?
Yes. Echo contrast is not the same as CT contrast. Echo contrast creates tiny bubbles in your bloodstream that disappear within a few minutes. The most common side effect of echo contrast is back pain shortly after it enters the body. This happens to a small number of patients who receive it.
What information can my echocardiogram show my doctor?
-Changes in your heart size. Weakened or damaged heart valves, high blood pressure or other diseases can cause the chambers of your heart to enlarge or the walls of your heart to be abnormally thickened. -Pumping strength. The measurements obtained from an echocardiogram include the percentage of blood that's pumped out of a filled ventricle with each heartbeat (ejection fraction) and the volume of blood pumped by the heart in one minute (cardiac output). A heart that isn't pumping enough blood to meet your body's needs can lead to symptoms of heart failure. -Damage to the heart muscle. An echocardiogram helps your doctor determine whether all parts of the heart wall are contributing normally to your heart's pumping activity. Areas of heart wall that move weakly may have been damaged during a heart attack, or be receiving too little oxygen. -Valve problems. An echocardiogram can help your doctor determine if your heart valves are functioning normally or not. This includes whether they open wide enough for adequate blood flow or close fully to prevent blood leakage. -Heart defects. An echocardiogram can show problems with the heart chambers, abnormal connections between the heart and major blood vessels, and congenital heart defects
Are there any risks or side effects?
A standard echocardiogram is a simple, painless, safe procedure. There are no side effects from the scan, although the lubricating gel may feel cold and you may experience some minor discomfort when the electrodes are removed from your skin at the end of the test. Unlike some other tests and scans, such as X-rays and CT scans, no radiation is used during an echocardiogram. However, there are some risks associated with the less common types of echocardiogram. You may find the transesophageal procedure uncomfortable and your throat may feel sore for a few hours afterwards. You will not be able to drive for 24 hours after the test as you may still feel drowsy from the sedative. There's also a small chance of the probe damaging your throat. During a stress echocardiogram, you may feel sick and dizzy, and you may experience some chest pain. There's also a small chance of the procedure triggering an irregular heartbeat or heart attack, but you'll be monitored carefully during the test and it will be stopped if there are signs of any problems. Some people have a reaction to the contrast agent used during a contrast echocardiogram. This will often only cause mild symptoms such as itching but, in rare cases, a serious allergic reaction can occur.