What Is Echocardiography?
Echocardiography, sometimes called simply echo, uses ultrasound waves to assess the function and health of the heart. This is done by creating moving pictures of your heart in an echocardiogram (echo). Echocardiograms are common tests that show the patient’s heart beating and pumping blood. There are several types of echocardiograms designed to detail different types of information.
At Premier Cardiology Consultants, we use echocardiograms every day to identify heart disease in our patients.
Candidates For Echocardiograms
An echocardiogram may be requested if our doctors suspect problems with the valves or chambers of the heart, or if you’re displaying symptoms of heart problems. For instance, if you’re having radiating chest pain or shortness of breath, an echo will show how well your heart is functioning.
These tests can also detect the cause of abnormal heart sounds, such as heart murmurs. While heart murmurs are usually harmless, sometimes they are indicative of problems with the heart.
Echocardiograms can be used to detect these problems: weakened heart muscles (signs of heart disease), an enlarged heart (often due to high blood pressure or leaky valves), valve problems (improperly opening or not fully closing), structural problems such as holes in the heart, or blood clots or tumors (particularly if you’ve had a stroke).
Types Of Echocardiograms
The most common type of echocardiogram, transthoracic echo involves placing a device called a transducer on your chest. The transducer sends sound waves through your chest to your heart. The ultrasound waves bounce off the structures of your heart and a computer takes that information and converts it into pictures on the computer screen.
Stress echo is intended to show the heart when working hard, beating fast. Problems such as coronary heart disease are easier to see when the heart is working hard. Stress echo is done as part of a stress test where you exercise or take medicine to elevate your heart rate. An echo is done before you begin to exercise and as soon as you finish exercising.
What Will My Echocardiogram Show?
These tests show how your heart is functioning. They detail the size, structure, and movement of the parts of your heart, such as the valves, the septum, and the chamber walls.
Echocardiograms can show:
Heart size — As noted above, damaged heart valves or conditions such as high blood pressure can cause the chambers of your heart to enlarge or the walls to become abnormally thick.
Heart defects — Problems with the heart chambers, abnormal blood vessel connections, the development of a baby’s heart before birth, even complex birth defects can be detected with echocardiography.
Pumping strength — When your heart doesn’t pump a sufficient amount of blood, this can result in heart failure. An echo can measure things such as the amount of blood pumped out of a filled ventricle or the volume of blood pumped in one minute.
Damage to the heart muscle — If an area of your heart isn’t contributing normally to the overall pumping function, it may have been damaged by a heart attack or it may be not getting enough oxygen.
Valve problems — Echo can show if your valves open and close adequately or correctly.
Do Echocardiograms Pose Any Health Concerns?
Echocardiograms utilize ultrasound energy to create moving pictures of the heart, the tests involve no radiation and pose no long-term health concerns.
Echocardiogram Testing Process
These are painless tests that usually take about one hour. For some types of echo, a saline or special dye solution may be injected into one of your veins to improve the images of your heart. Your upper body will be exposed and you’ll lie on your back or left side on the table next to the computer screen. Soft, sticky electrode patches will be placed on your chest to allow an electrocardiogram (EKG) to be done during your echocardiogram. The doctor or sonographer applies gel to your chest to facilitate the sound waves passing through the chest. Then he or she moves the transducer wand around your chest. The transducer transmits the sound waves into your chest and the computer converts the echoes to pictures of your heart on the computer screen.
For stress echocardiograms, you’ll either walk or run on a treadmill (or take medicine) to make your heart work hard. The echo will be done as soon as you are finished exercising.
Risks Of Echocardiography
There are few risks with any of the various echocardiograms. The only risks, are not with the test but with side issues, are slim. Stress echo has some risk due to the exercise to get your heart elevated and working hard. The real risk is not having these tests, and not knowing the root of your heart problems.
Schedule A Consultation
To learn more about Echocardiograms or schedule an appointment in one of our New York offices, please call 516-437-5600.