What Is Echocardiography?

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It is a test, which is also known as a cardiovascular ultrasound, heart ultrasound, or echo test. It uses sound waves to capture moving images of the heart. There is no need to check in to the hospital and stay overnight to have an echocardiograph and there is no surgery or pain involved. The images captured during the test show the shape and size of the heart, as well as whether the valves and chambers are working properly.

It can also detect areas of weakness in the heart muscles, such as muscles that aren’t contracting properly due to injury (such as previous heart attacks) or a lack of blood flow. A Doppler ultrasound is a type of echo that tracks the blood flow through the valves and chambers of the heart.

Echocardiography can detect fluid buildup in the sac around the heart, aorta problems, and whether there are blood clots present within the heart itself. It can also be used for infants and children that a doctor may suspect suffer from a heart problem.

Why You Make Need an Echo

There are plenty of reasons why your doctor may want to get a better look at your heart, some of those reasons include:

  • The patient has recently had a heart attack.
  • The doctor suspects the patient may have had a heart attack.
  • The patient has an existing heart murmur.
  • The doctor suspects the patient may have a heart murmur.
  • The patient has experienced chest pains that are unexplained.
  • The patient has a congenital heart defect.
  • The patient suffered from rheumatic fever.

How an Echo Is Carried Out

It is generally completed by a trained technician and it may be completed in a hospital room, a clinic, doctor’s office, the operating room, or even the emergency room.

The patient is generally asked to lie on their side or back and the technician then uses jelly on their probe to capture clear pictures of the heart. There is no x-ray present, thus no risk of radiation. Sound waves are used to capture the movements of the heart and it’s something the patient can watch on screen as the technician carries out the exam. It generally takes around an hour and there are no side effects, nor is there a need for any type of anesthetic as the process is painless.

There may be a need for a special test known as TEE (which is shorthand for Transesophageal Echocardiography) if the technician is struggling to capture adequate images of the heart. This involves the technician slipping a tube into the patient’s throat as they swallow to get a closer look at the esophagus. It works in much the same way the process does above but allows the technician to take better images.

Echocardiography allows doctors to determine how well your heart is functioning, if there are weak muscles present, if there are any issues with your heart valves, or if there is a blood clot present.

The doctor generally reviews the images later and then contacts the patient once they have had a chance to do so.