An echocardiogram, also called echo, is a type of ultrasound scan test that uses high-pitched sound waves sent through a device called a transducer to produce moving images of the heart on a video screen. An echocardiogram can be used in combination with a stress echocardiogram to get more information about the heart.
What are the types of Echocardiography?
There are four types of echocardiograms and these include transthoracic, stress, doppler, and transesophageal echocardiograms
The transthoracic electrocardiogram is the commonest type of echocardiogram and it involves moving the transducer on various parts of your chest.
The stress echocardiogram is done after having your heart stressed by pedalling a stationary bicycle or running on a treadmill. The Doppler electrocardiogram is used to detect how blood flows through your heart’s four chambers and the blood vessels.
The transesophageal echocardiogram is done with the probe passed down the oesophagus instead of being moved over the chest wall. This type of echocardiogram shows a better view of the heart since it is closer to it.
Why is an echocardiogram done?
The transthoracic echocardiogram is done to determine the cause of abnormal heart sounds, an enlarged heart, or unexplained chest pain. It is also done to check the structure, thickness, and shape of the chambers of the heart.
Doctors would recommend a stress echocardiogram to identify the presence of reduced blood flow to the heart. A transesophageal echocardiogram is done to monitor the heart during surgery, and see how well artificial heart valves in the heart are working.
How is an echocardiogram done?
The preparation you would need before an echocardiogram depends on the type you are going to have. For a transthoracic echocardiogram, no special preparation is needed, while for a transesophageal echocardiogram, you would be asked not to eat or drink for a minimum of 6 hours before the procedure.
For a stress echocardiogram, your doctor would advise you not to eat heavily a few hours before undergoing the procedure so you do not get nauseated during the exercise.
An echocardiogram is done in a doctor’s office or a hospital laboratory. It could also be done at your bedside in the hospital.
All types of echocardiogram except the transesophageal is done by a specially trained technician. The transesophageal echocardiogram is done by a cardiologist.
For a transesophageal and doppler electrocardiogram, you will lie on your back or on your left side on a table or bed. Then, small patches of electrodes are attached to your arms and legs to monitor your heart rate during the procedure.
A small device called a transducer is pressed firmly against your chest and moved back and forth. A gel is applied, so the probe of the transducer can move easily.
The transducer sends off sound waves to the heart and the echoes are reflected to a video monitor which shows images of your heart. You will be asked to lie very still and take slow breaths. The test takes 30 to 60 minutes and the gel is wiped off when completed. The stress echocardiogram is done as described above, but after an exercise.
How does an echocardiogram work?
The echocardiogram is a special kind of ultrasound scan. It uses high-pitched sound waves sent by a transducer to the heart. The echoes that are reflected from all parts of the heart are sent to a video screen displayed as images of the corresponding part of the heart.
What risks are associated with an echocardiogram?
An electrocardiogram is completely safe, as it is free of radiation.