Echocardiography is a test that uses high frequency sound waves to produce live images of your heart and is one of the most common cardiac tests. The image produced from the test is called an echocardiogram.
Your primary care physician or cardiologist will typically order an echocardiogram if they hear a heart murmur, if you have a known history of heart disease, or if you are experiencing symptoms suggestive of heart disease. The most notable early symptoms of heart disease may include chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness or pain in the extremities or neck. An echocardiography can help your physician determine if these symptoms are caused by abnormalities in your heart.
What Abnormalities Can Be Found?
The echocardiography is used to examine the heart's anatomy and function. This test provides information about your heart's size, the appearance of the heart's valves, and the thickness of the heart muscle. This study can help detect:
- Inflammation ( pericarditis ) or fluid in the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion)
- Cardiomyopathy (damage to the heart muscle)
- Congenital heart disease (abnormalities present at birth)
- Abnormal Heart Valves
- Blood Clots
- Cardiac Tumor
An echocardiography may also be done to assess the heart’s overall function and general structure.
How Is An Echocardiography Performed?
The most common echocardiography is a transthoracic echo which is performed by a sonographer, a specially trained ultrasound technologist. The study usually takes less than an hour to perform.
You will be asked to disrobe from the waist up and will be provided with a gown. You will lie on an examining table.
Dye, called contrast, may be given by IV. The contrast helps the heart's structures show up better on the images. To start, the sonographer will place several electrodes (small, sticky, flat patches) on your chest which are attached to an electrocardiograph (EKG). Then a hand held wand, called a transducer, is placed on your chest which sends the sound waves to your heart and produces echoes. The echoes then appear on the computer screen and are read by the sonographer.
Throughout the test, your sonographer may ask you to hold your breath for several seconds at a time. You may also need to move into a different position. You may hear swishing sounds which is the wand picking up the blood flowing through your heart. While there should be no major discomfort, the wand will cause a slight pressure on your chest. There may also be a slight coolness on your skin from the gel on the wand that helps produce clearer pictures.