What is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram (usually called an echo) is a diagnostic procedure that uses ultrasound waves to create an image of the heart's structure and function. It is a safe and painless procedure. It does not require the use of dye or other medication. It takes approximately 30-45 minutes and is done in the physician's office.
What can I expect during the procedure?
An echo is performed by gently placing a transducer, which resembles an oversized pencil, against your chest. Information received by the transducer is processed by the ultrasound machine's computer to create a moving image of your beating heart on a viewing monitor similar to a television screen.
During the course of an echo, several different modalities of ultrasound will be used to fully evaluate your heart:
Moving (beating) black and white images will be obtained which show the actual shape and motion of the cardiac structures in real-time. This will include all four chambers and all four valvular apparati located within the heart.
Color Flow Imaging
Blood flow movement through the heart will be visualized using color images.
The velocity of the blood flow moving across the cardiac valves will be measured using a graphic spectral display combined with an audible Doppler. The sound of the blood flowing through the heart will be heard as a rhythmic pulsating sound.
What information can the doctor gain from this procedure?
Size of the Heart
During an echo, many precise measurements are made. This will include the size of the various heart chambers and the thickness of the heart muscle.
The echo will show the shape and motion of the heart valves. They are evaluated for their size or opening excursion as well as their ability to close adequately. If a valve is narrowed during opening or leaking during closure the echo will allow the doctor to determine how severe the problem is and what treatment is needed.
Measurements are taken to calculate whether the heart is pumping at full strength. If the pumping action is found to be weakened, the exact location and extent of affected heart muscle is identified and the severity of the reduction is calculated.
Echo is used to evaluate the thin membranous exterior of the heart -called the pericardium - for abnormal thickness or the presence of excess fluid around the heart. Echo can also locate abnormal holes between the heart chambers or identify masses or blood clots within the chambers.
As you can see, an echo is able to provide the physician treating you with a tremendous amount of valuable information about the quality and function of your heart in a painless, non-invasive, easy procedure.
How do I prepare for the procedure?
There are no special preparations for this test. You can eat or drink anything you want. Please wear two-piece clothing for this procedure.
A stress echo is a special procedure which combines an echocardiogram with an exercise tolerance test. Ultrasound images of the heart are obtained before and immediately after exercise. These pre- and post-exercise images are then aligned in a side-by-side format so the physician can readily evaluate and compare the heart's function at rest to the heart's function at peak exercise.