An echocardiogram uses high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to create a moving picture of your heart as it works. Depending on the type of test you have, your Harrison physician can learn about the size, shape and movement of your heart muscle and associated vessels, how the heart valves are working and blood flows through your heart.
Echocardiograms used at Harrison
Transthoracic echocardiogram: This is the most commonly performed, noninvasive examination. Gel is spread on the chest, a transmission device (transducer) is pressed firmly against the skin. The transducer records the sound wave echoes your heart produces and a computer converts the echoes into moving images on a monitor. If your lungs or ribs obscure the image, a small amount of intravenous dye may be used to improve the images.
Transesophageal echocardiogram: For a clearer picture of your heart, a flexible tube containing a transducer is guided down your throat and into your esophagus, which connects your mouth to your stomach. Your throat will be numbed and you will receive medication intravenously to relax you.
Doppler echocardiogram: When sound waves bounce off blood cells moving through your heart and blood vessels, they change pitch. These ultrasound signals, measured with a device called a Doppler, help measure the speed and direction of the blood flow in your heart. Doppler techniques are used in most transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiograms.
Stress echocardiogram: Some heart problems occur only during physical activity, so ultrasound images of your heart are taken before and immediately after walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. For those unable to exercise, medication may be injected to make your heart work as hard as if you were exercising.
What to expect
After undressing from the waist up, you'll lie on an examining table or bed and the sonographer will attach sticky patches (electrodes) to your body to help detect and conduct the electrical currents of your heart.
During the echocardiogram, lights are dimmed to better view the image on the monitor. You may hear a pulsing "whoosh" sound, which is the machine recording the blood flowing through your heart. Most echocardiograms take less than an hour, but the timing may vary depending on your condition.
During a transthoracic echocardiogram, you may be asked to breathe in specific ways and change positions. Sometimes the measuring device, known as a transducer, must be held very firmly against your chest to help the sonographer produce the best images of your heart.
If you have a transesophageal echocardiogram, your throat will be numbed with a numbing spray or gel and you’ll probably be given a sedative to help you relax.
After the procedure
If your echocardiogram is normal, no further testing may be needed. If the results call for it, you may be referred to a heart specialist for further assessment. Treatment depends on what's found during the exam and your specific signs and symptoms.
At Harrison, you can rest assured that you will be receiving the best care—from people who care.