What is it for?
Echocardiograms are used to diagnose a wide range of heart conditions. It produces two-dimensional or three-dimensional images of the cardiovascular system. The test is usually used to measure the velocity of blood through your body, assess the function of your heart muscle, detect damage to the heart, and detect problems with your heart valves.
How is it done?
The least complicated of the tests, a transthoracic echocardiogram (echo or TTE), is a safe and painless test that uses sound waves to examine the chambers, muscle and valves of the heart. Before the test is started, three electrodes are placed on your chest. A small transducer (microphone) is placed on your chest. Sound waves are bounced off the heart through the transducer and a computer converts the waves into pictures on a screen. A color flow, or Doppler, echo may also be performed using the same equipment. In this part of the test, a portion of waves, color pictures and audio signals will show the direction and speed of blood flow through the chambers and valves of the heart. The procedure usually takes 45 to 60 minutes.
A three-dimensional echocardiogram, sometimes called a 3D Echo, is a tool that uses multiple sensors and sonogram technology to look at the heart from all directions. With enough data, the picture that is created can be seen to move in real time. This test allows a doctor to easily see the complex anatomy of the heart and better check how well it is working, gaining information before and after an operation.
A fetal echocardiogram is a specialized ultrasound used to image a baby's heart in great detail. It is a safe and noninvasive way to diagnose a congenital heart condition and plan for treatment while a baby is still in utero.
Sometimes, a TTE will not create useable images because of your medical conditions. Then, a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) is used, in which pictures of the heart are taken using an imaging tube (probe) placed in the esophagus. Since the esophagus is so close to the heart, the pictures are much clearer than those taken during a standard echocardiogram. You are usually given medication to help you relax, and your throat is sprayed with a numbing medication. When the probe is placed in your esophagus, sound waves are sent into your heart, reflected back and converted by a computer into pictures on a screen. All the video is digitally recorded and analyzed by a heart specialist. The procedure usually takes 90 minutes.
What happens after the test?
The information from an echocardiogram is recorded on digital video and analyzed by a cardiologist. A report is generated and sent to the referring doctor.