What Is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram or echo scan uses sound waves to produce images of the heart and blood vessels. A small probe is used to send out high-frequency sound waves from a handheld wand placed on the chest, creating echoes. The small probe picks up the echoes, and images of the heart valves and chambers are viewed on a monitor. The images help your doctor to assess the pumping mechanism of your heart. The echo does not use radiation, unlike CT scans that use small amounts of radiation.
An echocardiogram can be combined with a Doppler ultrasound and techniques to enable doctors to evaluate blood flow in the heart’s valves and identify heart disease.
What Are the Different Types of Echocardiogram?
There are various types of echocardiograms and all use sound waves to create pictures of your heart, including:
- Transesophageal Echocardiogram: The test is performed if your doctor cannot get clear pictures of your heart with a standard echocardiogram and wants more detailed images. During the test, a small tube is passed down the throat into your oesophagus to allow the doctor to have detailed pictures of your heart.
- Transthoracic Echocardiogram: This is the most common type of screening and is noninvasive and pain-free. A handheld device(transducer) is placed on your chest and sends special waves through your chest wall to your heart. The computer converts the waves into pictures on a monitor.
- Exercise Stress Echocardiogram: During the test, you will exercise on a treadmill or your doctor will give you medicine to make your heart work hard and beat fast as if you are exercising. Pictures of your heart will be taken before and immediately after finishing the exercise. The test makes it easier to diagnose coronary heart disease.
- Fetal Echocardiography: A fetal echo is used by doctors to look at an unborn baby’s heart to check for any heart problems. During the test, a transducer is moved across the belly. It is done when a pregnant woman is about 18 to 22 weeks pregnant.
- Three-Dimensional Echocardiography: A 3D echocardiography creates 3D images of your heart using either transesophageal or transthoracic echocardiography to provide detailed information about your heart health and function. 3D echo is used before heart surgery and to diagnose heart conditions in children.
Why Do I Need an Echocardiogram?
Your doctor might order a cardiogram to identify:
- How well medical or surgical treatments are working
- Blood clots
- Narrow heart valves (stenosis)
- Heart disease
- Tumors or infectious growths
- Holes between heart chambers
- The heart’s pumping strength
- Monitor heart valve disease over time
- Abnormalities of the outer lining of your heart (pericardium)
- The shape and size of your heart and the thickness of the heart walls
- Regurgitation (issues with blood flowing backward)
An echocardiogram is a non-invasive test with no side effects and is used as the first line of screening to help your cardiologist to evaluate heart health.
How Do I Prepare for The Echo?
There are special preparations, and you can drink and eat before the test as you usually do.
How Does a Doctor Perform an Echocardiogram?
During your evaluation at Reading Cardiology Associates, the specially trained technician will ask you to:
- Lie on a table and relax. A small metal disk (electrode) is placed on specific areas of your chest. The electrodes have wires hooked to an electrocardiograph (EKG/ECG) machine to keep track of your heartbeat and monitor heart function during the test. To better see the video monitor, the room has to be dark.
- A gel is placed on your chest to enable sound waves to pass through the skin, and the technician glides the handheld device (transducer) over your chest. The probe produces sound waves that are changed into pictures and displayed on a video monitor.
- You may be asked to move into a particular position or hold your breath briefly to get in-depth images of your heart and the surrounding structures. This is called a transthoracic echocardiogram and may be used with a Doppler echocardiogram. A Doppler echocardiogram measures the blood’s flow direction and speed through your heart.
- The gel is cleaned from your chest, and the pictures are recorded so your doctor can analyse the test results before they are sent to your doctor.
The test takes less than an hour to be completed. There are no side effects, the test is harmless, and you can resume your usual activities.
What Do My Echocardiogram Results Mean?
Our cardiologists at Reading Cardiology Associates will discuss the test results immediately after the test or in a follow-up appointment. If the results are normal, no further testing is needed. However, you will be referred to a specialist (cardiologist) if there are any abnormalities. The abnormalities help your doctor discover why you have decreased heart function, chest pain, poor blood flow, or abnormal heart rhythm.
The results may show Changes in your heart size, damage to the heart muscle, heart defects, pumping strength, and valve problems. After your diagnosis, your cardiologist will talk to you about additional testing and the necessary treatment plans.
Reading Cardiology Associates provides in-office echocardiograms to check for any heart conditions and evaluate heart health. Contact us today or book an appointment online.