An echocardiogram is a medical test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the heart. In short, it’s a heart ultrasound that shows a live picture of it beating. Apart from determining the pulse and its rhythm, the echocardiogram helps evaluate the heart’s overall function. The procedure checks on the valves, walls, chambers, and blood vessels, as well.
Why are Echocardiograms Done?
Aside from the need for regular checkups, doctors use the test to look at the patient’s heart structure and assess how well it functions. The shape, size, and pumping strength of the heart are evaluated. Doctors check the valves to see if they are working correctly or if they’re too narrow, resulting in constricted blood flow.
Echocardiograms are done to check for signs of regurgitation, potentially malignant growths, and tumors. Additionally, they are used to check for other problems with the pericardium, or the heart’s outer lining, the blood vessels in the heart, and possible blood clots in the heart chambers. Echocardiograms may also be done to examine if there are any structural defects or abnormal holes.
The following are some signs which may merit the need for an echocardiogram:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or fainting
- Fluttering, racing, or irregular heartbeat
- Unusual tiredness or being easily prone to fatigue
Doctors may recommend an echocardiogram for patients exhibiting signs of heart problems. This procedure helps determine an existing problem, confirm a diagnosis, or serve as a guide for creating treatment plans.
Echocardiograms may be ordered for further evaluation of symptoms that may suggest the following complications:
- Heart failure
- Cardiac tumor
- Heart valve disease
- Congenital heart disease
- Atrial or septal wall defects
- Pericardial effusion or tamponade
How is an Echocardiogram Performed?
The procedure takes around 30–45 minutes to complete. A healthcare provider will explain the details of the entire process, and the patient is required to remove their shirt, change into a dressing gown, and lie down on a table. Electrodes (small metal disks) are placed on the chest and hooked to an EKG machine to keep track of the heartbeat.
Afterward, a gel is placed on the chest and a probe, called a transducer, is passed across it. The device then transmits sound waves to create moving pictures of the heart, which will be displayed on a monitor. Depending on the procedure and situation, there are several types of echocardiograms you can get done.
- Transthoracic Echocardiogram The transducer is aimed at an ultrasound beam through the chest, which records the sound waves echoing from the heart.
- Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE) Doctors recommend a TEE when they want to see more detailed images. Prior to performing the echocardiogram, the patient’s throat is numbed and given medication to relax. Afterward, a tube containing a transducer is guided down the throat and into the esophagus.
- Doppler Echocardiogram Doctors use this to evaluate blood pressure and potential problems with blood flow in the heart’s arteries.
- Stress Echocardiogram Doctors recommend this test if they suspect coronary artery problems.
Overall, an echocardiogram is a standard procedure and poses no risk. Other than soreness of the throat and a possible allergic reaction to the sedative during a TEE, there are no other drastic side effects. Patients may resume their normal activities and continue with their regular diet following the procedure, unless otherwise advised by the doctor. No special care is required post-procedure.
Echocardiogram Testing in Irmo, South Carolina
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above or want to learn if an echocardiogram may be right for you, get in touch with our team of professionals at SC Internal Medicine Associates and Rehabilitation. Call us (803) 749-1111 or request an appointment online.