What is echocardiogram?

  •  An echocardiogram is a medical procedure that uses sound waves to produce images of your heart as it functions. This procedure allows the doctor to examine your heart as it continues to beat and pump blood, in order to track and identify defects if any.

Why is an echocardiogram performed?

  •  Doctors use an echocardiogram to confirm the health of the heart, and identify defects or diseases if any, be it congenital or acquired. Depending on the severity of the conditions present, you may be administered with echocardiograms of different variety, each serving a separate function.

What Are the Types of Echocardiograms?

There are 4 major types of echocardiograms available today.

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram – This is a standard echocardiogram that helps the doctor get a closer look at your heart and its surrounding regions. In this procedure, the sonographer placed a gelled-up transducer on your skin, sending an ultrasound beam through your chest. The transducer then picks up the heart’s sound waves and transmits them to the computer, where the echoes are converted into moving images.
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram – This type of echocardiogram is recommended by the doctor if they require a more detailed image of the heart, or if the region is hard to examine using the standard procedure. During this procedure, a flexible tube containing a transducer is inserted down your esophagus, once numbing and relaxation medicines are administered. Once inside, the transducer picks up the heart’s sound waves clearer, and the computer attached converts them into moving images for examination.
  • Doppler echocardiogram – This procedure is used to measure and monitor the speed and direction of blood flow in the heart and even throughout the body. It can also be used to identify blood pressure problems in the heart or the arteries. The Doppler echocardiogram makes use of sound waves which, when in contact with blood cells, emit a change in pitch called a doppler signal. These changes are monitored and mapped out by the computer, enabling the doctor to pinpoint the problem areas, if any, more efficiently.
  • Stress echocardiogram – Out of the various heart problems known to mankind, some affect the coronary arteries directly, which cannot be analysed through normal echocardiograms as these issues only surface during physical strain/activity. Through a stress echocardiogram, these issues can be easily identified. In this procedure, an ultrasound image of your heart is taken before and after engaging in physical activity; like walking on a treadmill. If you are unable to engage in such activities, the doctor will administer an injection that would spike your heart rate to mimic the effects of physical activity.

What Do Echocardiogram Results Show?

Echocardiograms are effective in pinpointing and identifying various heart related issues including:

  • Changes in your heart size – caused by weakened heart valves, or even high blood pressure.
  • Inadequate pumping strength and rate – the percentage and volume of blood pumped is monitored to check if it meets the body’s needs.
  • Damaged heart muscles – all parts of the heart responsible for its daily functioning is monitored to ensure that they are in top condition and do not have any underlying issues.
  • Valve problems – valves are monitored to ensure that they open adequately to allow maximum blood flow.
  • Heart defects – problems in the heart chambers, abnormalities in the connection points between the heart and arteries, or even complex congenital defects are identified and rectified.

How to prepare for an echocardiogram?

  • For the standard procedure, no special preparation is necessary. You can follow your normal regime including food and medicine intake.
  • For Transesophageal echocardiograms, the doctor will advise you to not consume any foods for several hours before the procedure.  Do also note that you are advised to not drive home after this procedure as the medicines administered could have lasting effects that can affect your road judgement.

What are the risks of an echocardiogram?

  • For the standard Transthoracic procedure, there are no risks involved.
  • As for the Transesophageal procedure, your throat may feel sore after the treatment. Your breathing will also be monitored to ensure no problems arise due to the sedatives.
  • Those undertaking the Stress echocardiogram, an irregular heartbeat can be experienced for a short while, due to the physical activity done or the injections administered.

What happens during the procedure?

  • For a standard Transthoracic procedure, you will be asked to undress from the waist up and lie on the examination table or bed, after which the technician will attach sticky electrodes on your chest to detect the heart’s electrical currents. The technician will then firmly press a gelled-up transducer on your chest, moving it back and forth, to create images of the heart’s sound wave echoes. In order to get the best results, you may be asked to breath a certain way or lie on your left side.
  • For the Transesophageal procedure, your throat will be numbed with a spray or gel, after which a sedative will be administered to help you relax. Once it takes effect, a long tube containing the transducer will be guided down the esophagus where it proceeds to create images of the heart.

What happens after an echocardiogram?

  • After an echocardiogram, you can resume your day-to-day life with ease. If your results show no issues, you would not require any further testing. But, if your results depict the presence of any issues, a cardiologist will be referred to further assist and aid your treatment process.

**The above information is for general knowledge only and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult a doctor if you have any questions or symptoms.