What is an echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is a noninvasive (the skin is not pierced) procedure used to assess the heart’s function and structures. During the procedure, a transducer (like a microphone) sends out ultrasonic sound waves. When the transducer is placed on the chest at certain locations and angles, the ultrasonic sound waves move through the skin and other body tissues to the heart tissues, 070-414 exam where the waves bounce or “echo” off of the heart structures. These sound waves are sent to a computer that can create moving images of the heart walls and valves.
An echocardiogram may utilize several special types of echocardiography, as listed below:
This, the simplest type of echocardiography, produces an image that is similar to a tracing rather than an actual picture of heart structures. M-mode echo is useful for measuring heart structures, such as the heart’s pumping chambers, the size of the heart itself, and the thickness of the heart walls.
This Doppler technique is used to measure and assess the flow of blood through the heart’s chambers and valves. The amount of blood pumped out with each beat is an indication of the heart’s functioning. Also, Doppler can detect abnormal blood flow within the heart, which can indicate a problem with one or more of the heart’s four valves, or with the heart’s walls.
Color Doppler is among the most advanced forms of echocardiography. With color Doppler, different colors are used to designate the direction of blood flow. This simplifies the interpretation of the Doppler technique.
Reasons for the procedure
There can be several reasons to suggest an echocardiogram. In most cases, it is performed for further evaluation of symptoms that may suggest:
A gradual clogging of the arteries over many years by fatty materials and other substances in the blood stream that can lead to abnormalities in the wall motion or pumping function of your heart.
An enlargement of the heart due to thickening or weakening of the heart muscle
• Congenital heart disease
Defects in one or more heart structures that occur during formation of the fetus, such as a ventricular septal defect (hole in the wall between the two lower chambers of the heart).
• Congestive heart failure
A condition in which the heart muscle has become weakened to an extent that blood cannot be pumped efficiently, causing fluid buildup (congestion) in the blood vessels and lungs, and edema (swelling) in the feet, ankles, and other parts of the body.
A dilation of a part of the heart muscle or the aorta (the large artery that carries oxygenated blood out of the heart to the rest of the body), which may cause weakness of the tissue at the site of the aneurysm.
• Valvular heart disease
Malfunction of one or more of the heart valves that may cause an abnormality of the blood flow within the heart.
• Cardiac tumor
A tumor of the heart that may occur on the outside surface of the heart, within one or more chambers of the heart (intracavitary), or within the muscle tissue (myocardium) of the heart.
An inflammation or infection of the sac that surrounds the heart.
An echocardiogram may also be simply performed to assess the heart’s overall function and general structure..
Risks of the procedure
Echocardiogram is a relatively safe procedure. For some patients, having to lie still on the examination table for the length of the procedure may cause some discomfort.
Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.
Before the procedure
• Generally, no prior preparation, such as fasting or sedation, is required.
• Notify of all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and herbal supplements that you are taking.
• Notify our doctor if you have a pacemaker.
Based on your medical condition, the doctor may request other specific preparation.
After the procedure
You may resume your usual diet and activities unless the doctor advises you differently.
Generally, there is no special type of care following an echocardiogram. However, depending on your particular situation you may be given additional or alternate instructions after the procedure.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your doctor. Please consult our doctor with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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WebMD Heart Disease Health Center
American Heart Association
National Institutes of Health (NIH)