What is an echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is a safe, non-invasive procedure used to diagnose cardiovascular disease. It uses high-frequency sound waves literally to see all four chambers of the heart, the heart valves, the great blood vessels entering and leaving the heart, as well as the sack around the heart. Echocardiography allows doctors to visualize the anatomy, structure, and function of the heart. It can quickly diagnose the presence and severity of heart valve problems, as well as determine abnormal flow within the heart, which occurs with congenital heart disease.
Why is an echocardiogram performed?
Echocardiography can be used to determine causes for chest pain, establish a baseline for reference in tracking chronic heart conditions, evaluate the effects of a heart attack, diagnose narrowed or leaking heart valves, as well as to determine the need for intervention or as a follow-up to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. Young children or infants could have echocardiography performed if there is suspected congenital heart disease.
What types of echocardiograms are there?
The conventional echocardiogram usually performed is the transthoracic echo, which is performed by placing the probe on the outside of the chest wall with a gel-like substance to transmit sound waves into the body.
- The Doppler echocardiograms evaluate blood flow in the heart and blood vessels. This procedure measures the speed and direction of the blood flow within the heart. It screens the four valves for leaks or other abnormalities.
- Transesophageal echo is a form of echo where a miniature ultrasound camera is passed down the esophagus, behind the heart. This allows the physician to obtain very high-quality images.
How long does an echocardiogram take?
An echo takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes.