As a means of cardiovascular diagnosis, the echocardiogram is one of the most popular diagnostic tools in the arsenal of any cardiologist.
What is a Cardiac Ultrasound?
An echo, echocardiogram or cardiac ultrasound is a form of testing that uses sound waves in an effort to provide doctors and cardiologists with an accurate image of the heart from the inside. As one of the most common tests one would get at their cardiologist’s office the echo allows us to see the heart as it is pumping blood to the body. The highly detailed imaging provided through an echo, can allow doctors do diagnose and better understand the inner workings of someone’s heart, even allowing them to identify symptoms of heart disease.
Why Have an Echocardiogram Done?
Echocardiograms are generally suggested for a few specific reasons, including to:
- Check for issues with the valves and/or chambers of the heart.
- Identify congenital issues or birth defects within the heart of an unborn child – this is a fetal echo.
- Identify any heart issues or ailments that might be the cause of certain symptoms an individuals might be experiencing.
Types of Echocardiogram
- Transthoracic Echocardiogram
Within this type of echocardiogram a sonographer or technician will general begin by spreading gel along a device known as the transducer. He or she will then press the transducer firmly against the patient’s skin, and aim an ultrasound beam through the patient’s chest and into the heart. The transducer records the sound wave echoes from your heart, and following that a computer converts the echoes into moving images on a monitor. In some cases, in the event that your lungs or ribs block the view, you may need a small amount of an enhancing agent injected through an intravenous (IV) line. The enhancing agent is generally safe and well tolerated, will make your heart’s structures show up more clearly on a monitor.
- Transesophageal Echocardiogram
Another form of an echo, in which the doctor may need a more detailed view of the heart area, allowing for a more detailed and clear picture of the heart than a standard echocardiogram. The procedure begins with the numbing of the throat, and sometimes even medication to help relax the throat and alleviate pain issues. Then using a flexible tube containing a transducer is guided down your throat and into the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach (esophagus). The transducer works to record the sound wave echoes from your heart. A computer converts the echoes into detailed moving images of your heart, which your doctor can view on a monitor.
- Doppler Echocardiogram
Similar to the Doppler effect, this method of an echo uses sound waves bouncing off blood cells as they move through the heart, and along your blood vessels. The changes in the pitch, as the sound waves bounce off, against Doppler signals and the Doppler effect, allow the cardiologist to measure the speed and direction of the blood flow into the heart. Doppler techniques are generally used in transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiograms. Doppler techniques can also be used to check blood flow problems and blood pressure in the arteries of your heart — which traditional ultrasound might not detect. The blood flow shown on the monitor is colorized to help your doctor pinpoint any problems.
In many instances, patients may only experience heat problems, during times of intense physical activity of stress – particularly those issues that involve the arteries that supply blood to your heart, known as the coronary arteries. For such cases, doctors might recommend the use of a stress echocardiogram, which allows us to check for coronary issues, to identify any possible blockages that might occur whilst the patient is generally on a treadmill running or jogging. In a stress echocardiogram:
- Ultrasound images of your heart are taken before and immediately after you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike
- If you’re unable to exercise, you may get an injection of a medication to make your heart pump as hard as if you were exercising
For more information on echocardiograms and more, be sure to contact Dr. Kalafatic.