What is an Echocardiogram (Heart Ultrasound)?
A heart ultrasound – also known as echocardiogram or echo test—is a test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create computerized images of the heart (heart muscles, heart valves, and the attached blood vessels like arteries, aorta, veins). An echo test will be used by your doctor to look at the structure of your heart and to check how well the heart is functioning. The echo test will help the doctor find out:
- Size, shape, thickness of your heart and the movement of the heart’s walls
- Pumping strength of the heart
- Performance of the heart valves and if there is any blood leaking backwards through the valves
- Identify if the heart valves are too narrow
- Presence of an infectious growth or tumor around the heart valve
- Presence of blood clots in the heart chambers
- Presence of abnormal holes between the heart chambers
- Presence of particularly large blood vessels that enter or leave your heart
- Problems with the outer heart lining (pericardium)
Also, the images created by the ultrasound test are more detailed than traditional X-rays.
An echocardiogram, also known as echocardiography or diagnostic cardiac ultrasound, aids in determining the condition of your heart, especially post heart-attack. It also helps in identifying heart defects in foetuses. The echocardiogram test is painless, and safe as it does not expose you to radiation.
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What are the types of an echocardiogram?
Depending upon your heart condition and symptoms, your doctor will suggest any of the following types of echocardiogram or echo heart tests:
- Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE): The TTE test is used for examining problems with chamber or valves of the heart, and the heart’s ability to pump blood. One of the main reasons for undergoing this test it to identify causes of stroke.
- Three-dimensional (3-D) echocardiogram: A 3-D echo test is performed to identify problems with replacement heart valves, heart valves, and the heart’s left ventricle (lower left chamber).
- Transoesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): The TEE test is used to get clearer pictures of the upper heart chambers. Doctors may advise this test if you are obese, use a ventilator for breathing, have a thick chest wall, or have bandages on your chest.
- Intracardiac echocardiogram (ICE): The ICE test is used for monitoring the treatments that involve the placement of catheters (thin tubes) inside your arteries.
- Stress echocardiogram: This test is performed for identifying conditions that deliberately increase your blood pressure or heart rate.
- Doppler echocardiogram: This test is performed to assess and measure the flow of blood through the heart valves and chambers. Also, doppler echo test helps in detecting abnormal blood flow within your heart.
- Fetal echocardiogram: This test is performed to understand the function and structure of your fetus. It also helps your doctor to see the blood flow through the fetus’s heart.
- M-mode echocardiogram: This test is performed for measuring the heart structure such as the heart pumping chambers, size of the heart, and the heart’s walls thickness.
Why do you need an echocardiogram test?
The echocardiogram (echo) test is performed to look at your heart’s structure, understand how it is performing, and the function of the heart valves and blood vessels. The echocardiogram test helps detect the following:
- Heart murmurs, abnormal heart valves, and abnormal heart rhythms
- Congenital heart disease
- Damage to the heart muscle(s) from a heart attack
- Inflammation or fluid in the sac around the heart
- Infection on or around the heart valves
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Ability of the heart to pump blood (for people with heart failure)
- Source of a blood clot after a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
How is the heart ultrasound (echocardiogram) performed?
The procedure of an echocardiogram test will vary depending on your condition and symptoms. Following is the basic process of an echocardiogram:
- The technologist will begin with explaining the test to you and answering any questions that you have.
- The technologist will ask you to remove any jewelry or other objects from your body that may interfere with the procedure. You will only be allowed to wear your hearing aids, dentures, or glasses (if you use any).
- You will be asked to remove all the upper body clothing, wear a front-open gown, and lie on your left side on the examination table or bed.
- The technologist will apply adhesive electrodes on your chest for monitoring and recording the echocardiogram (ECG) signals. The place where the electrodes will be placed, will be cleaned with alcohol. Sometimes a mild abrasion will be used for ensuring continuous and interference-free ECG recording.
- Ultrasound gel will be applied on your chest and then the technologist will place the transducer probe on the gel. You may experience slight pressure when the technologist positions the transducer for obtaining the required images of the heart.
- The technologist will darken the room to better view the images on the echo monitor.
- During the echocardiogram test, the technologist will maneuver the transducer probe on your chest while applying slight pressure to get images of different locations and structures of the heart. If the amount of pressure applied makes you uncomfortable, then inform the technologist. The technologist may ask you to take deep breaths, sniff from your nose, and hold your breath during the procedure
- If the certain structure of your heart does not have visibility, then an IV contrast will be used, which will help show the heart chambers. The contrast used is not iodine-based. Therefore, it is safe for people allergic to shellfish or shrimp.
- Post the completion of the procedure, the technologist will clean the gel from your chest, and remove the ECG electrode pads.
- A cardiologist will review the data once the test is completed. Your test report will be sent to your respective doctor(s).
How long does the test take?
The echocardiogram usually takes an hour.
What are the risks of the procedure?
With a doctor or technologist present throughout the echocardiogram procedure, there are rarely any risks involved. Also, since the imaging procedure is non-invasive in the body, it carries minimal risks. The only discomfort you will experience is with the transducer, which can put a little pressure on the surface of your chest.
For few people, having to lie down on one side during the whole procedure may result in some pain or discomfort.
There can be few other risks depending upon your medical condition. Be sure to discuss your concerns with the doctor prior to the procedure.
How do I prepare? Do I need to fast?
No preparation or fasting required. Just bring your LabFinder Order and Insurance Card to your appointment.
When will I receive my results?
Results will be uploaded on the LabFinder portal within 3-5 days. You may access the reports by logging in to the portal using your credentials. Depending upon on your test results, you will be guided further by your doctor.
How can I learn more about an echo test?
Have a discussion with your doctors. Here are some good questions to begin with:
- Why is this particular echo test performed?
- What do I need to do to prepare for the test?
- Should I be undergoing any other tests?
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