An echocardiogram is a diagnostic procedure that helps in taking images of the heart. It is a type of ultrasound study that helps in evaluating the health of the heart. Echocardiogram is not similar to electrocardiogram or ECG.
What is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is the ultrasound study of the heart. It is also called as echo, where high pitched sound waves are used to get the accurate images of the working heart. This includes the heart muscles, chambers, heart beats, pumping of the blood as well as other structural details of the heart. These sounds are emitted through a device called the transducer. It can pick up the sound wave echo that bounces off the different parts of the heart.
In this study, the use of 2D, 3D and Doppler ultrasound technology helps in the creation of the images of the heart. It is a routine study of diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of heart diseases.
Types of Echocardiogram
There are different types of echocardiogram. Each type is ordered by the doctor based on the condition suspected. These include:
This is the most common type of echo that is carried out by moving the transducer to different locations on the chest. This test helps in detecting:
- Abnormal murmurs or clicks
- Enlarged heart
- Unexplained chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Thickness of heart wall
- Size and shape of heart chambers
- Cardiac performance, i.e. pumping of blood action
- Blood clots
- Doppler echocardiography
This test helps in measurement and assessment of the blood that flows through the blood vessels, heart valves and chambers. It also helps in detection of any abnormal blood flow in the heart.
This is the advanced, colored version of Doppler echocardiography. In this case, different colors help in differentiating the blood flow in different direction.
This tests the doctor see the real-time movement of the heart on the monitor. This helps in evaluating various heart structures and their function.
This helps in generating a 3D view of the heart. The live images are taken as the heart beats and assess the heart functions.
Transesophageal echocardiogram (TTE)
This test is conducted by passing a probe down the esophagus. TTE helps in giving clear pictures of the heart. This test is conducted under anesthesia in the presence of a cardiologist. The test helps the doctor get precise images for better diagnosis and management of the heart condition.
This test as the name suggests trying to access the heart function during stress. The test is conducted both at before and after inducing stress to the heart. This helps in understanding if there is any form of decreased blood flow to the heart, due to, for example, coronary artery disease.
Why is an Echocardiogram Performed?
There are many reasons for which an echocardiogram may be advised. This test helps in evaluating the heart health for diagnosis, treatment as well as regular follow-ups. Some of the reasons for echo include:
- To detect congenital heart disease
- Heart murmurs
- Infective endocarditis
- Atrial fibrillation
- Abnormality in the heart valves
- Pericardial effusion
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Congestive heart failure
- Cardiac tumor
- Valvular heart disease
- Pericarditis, etc.
How Do I Prepare Before an Echocardiogram?
There is no preparation such as fasting or sedation (except TTE) required for an echocardiogram. It is advisable to inform the doctor about any medication you may be on. Also, do let the doctor know if you are fitted with a pacemaker.
How is an Echocardiogram Performed?
During the procedure one may be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that might interfere with the reading. One may be asked to wear a gown or remove clothing from the waist up. You will have to lie down on a bed on your left side. An ECG monitor will be connected to the chest with the help of small, adhesive electrodes.
Warmed gel will be placed on the chest and a transducer probe will be moved over the gel. This will help obtain the most precise images of the heart. Once the procedure is completed, the technologist will wipe the gel and remove the electrode pads. You will be asked to get dressed and wait for the results.
Echocardiogram helps the doctor measure the shape and size of the heart. It also helps the doctor understand if the valves are functioning normally, detect clots, infections or abnormal fluid around the heart. This will help in understanding your condition and take necessary action for treating the heart condition.
Is any After-care Required?
Echocardiogram is an outpatient procedure which does not require a hospital stay or any special follow-up. It takes about 15 minutes to an hour for the test to be completed.
Are There Any Risks Involved with Echocardiogram?
This is an extremely safe procedure and there is no form of radiation involved in this study.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: February 02, 2015