An echocardiogram is a test in which high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) are aimed at the heart. The ultrasound waves bounce back to the ultrasound machine, which interprets it as data and as information about the heart. The test can provide data based on size and density, measure the heart chambers and produce sophisticated images of the beating heart chambers, valves and the major blood vessels of the ventricles.
Echocardiography may be performed while you are still, known as a “resting echocardiogram,” or while you are performing exercise on a treadmill, commonly known as a “stress echo.”
For a resting echocardiogram, you will remove clothing from your upper body, put on a gown or cover up with a sheet if you wish, and lie on an examination table. No special preparation is necessary. Before administering the ultrasound, you will be connected to the EKG machine, which helps in the timing of various cardiac events (filling and emptying of chambers). The technician will apply a gel wherever he or she will place the echo transducer, make recordings from different parts of the chest, and collect several views of your heart. A monitor will show images of your heart during the test, and these images are also as photographs and on videotape. The tape offers a permanent record of the examination and is reviewed by the physician prior to completion of the final report.
During the echocardiogram, ultrasound also provides information about how blood is flowing through and out of your heart. This aspect of the test is called the Doppler test, and it can reveal crucial information, such as blood leakage or regurgitation occurring in heart valves.
Echocardiography with Doppler testing normally takes about 40 minutes and is extremely safe.
TTE vs. TEE
The standard echocardiogram is also called a transthoracic echocardiogram, or TTE. The transducer will be placed on the chest wall (thorax), and images will be taken through the chest wall.
Sometimes, the patient’s body structure makes it impossible or impractical to get a good image through the chest wall. In these cases, a transesophegeal echocardiogram, or TEE, may be necessary. In this procedure, the transducer is passed down the throat into the patient’s esophagus.
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