Echocardiography
Echocardiography is a test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart. The picture is much more detailed than x-ray image and involves no radiation exposure.
A trained sonographer performs the test, then your heart doctor interprets the results. An instrument that transmits high-frequency sound waves called a transducer is placed on your ribs near the breast bone and directed toward the heart. The transducer picks up the echoes of the sound waves and transmits them as electrical impulses. The echocardiography machine converts these impulses into moving pictures of the heart.
Echocardiogram works well for most patients and allows doctors to see the heart beating and to visualize many of the structures of the heart. Occasionally, your lungs, ribs, or body tissue may prevent the sound waves and echoes from providing a clear picture of heart function. If so, the sonographer may inject a small amount of material (contrast) through an IV to better see the inside of the heart.
If the echocardiogram is unclear due to a barrel chest, congestive obstructive pulmonary disease, or obesity, your health care provider may choose to perform a transesophageal echocardiogram, or TEE. With TEE, the back of your throat is anesthetized and a scope is inserted down your throat. On the end of the scope is an ultrasonic device that an experienced technician will guide down to the lower part of the esophagus, where it is used to obtain a more clear two-dimensional echocardiogram of your heart.
There is no special preparation for the test. You will be asked to disrobe from the waist up and will lie on an examination table on your back. Electrodes will be placed onto your chest to allow for an ECG to be done. A gel will be spread on your chest and then the transducer will be applied. You will feel a slight pressure on your chest from the transducer. You may be asked to breathe in a certain way or to roll over onto your left side.
This test is performed to evaluate the valves and chambers of the heart in a noninvasive manner. The echocardiogram allows doctors to evaluate heart murmurs, check the pumping function of the heart, and evaluate patients who have had heart attacks. It is a very good screening test for heart disease in certain groups of patients. A normal echocardiogram reveals normal heart valves and chambers and normal heart wall movement. An abnormal echocardiogram can mean many things. Some abnormalities are very minor and do not pose significant risks. Other abnormalities are signs of very serious heart disease that will require further evaluation by a specialist. Therefore, it is very important to discuss the results of your echocardiogram in depth with your health care provider. There are no known risks associated with this test. Abnormal results may indicate heart valve disease, cardiomyopathy, pericardial effusion, or other cardiac abnormalities.
 
Last Modified: December 29, 2011