Echocardiography (EK-o-kar-de-OG-rah-fee) is a painless procedure that creates a moving picture of your heart using sound waves.

Your heart’s size and shape can be seen in the pictures. In addition, it shows whether the chambers and valves of the heart are functioning properly or not.

Furthermore, Echo can also be used to pinpoint areas of the heart muscle that are not contracting well due to poor blood flow or injuries from previous heart attacks.

Doppler ultrasound is a type of Echo that can determine how well blood flows through the heart’s chambers and valves.

Moreover, echo is used to identify the possible blood clots inside the heart, fluid buildup in the pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart), and an abnormality in the aorta.

From your heart to your body, oxygen-rich blood flows through the aorta. The Echo can also detect children’s and infants’ heart problems. 

Why do You Need Echocardiography?

Echocardiography (Echo) is recommended to an individual experiencing signs or symptoms of heart problems such as swelling in the legs, shortness of breath, etc.

An individual with heart failure cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to fulfill the human body’s requirements. The Echo can determine your heart’s ability to pump blood.

Echo reports can also help your physician determine what is causing abnormal heart sounds, such as a murmur. A murmur is heard when the heart beats, reflecting a heart problem.

Your doctor can also use Echo to find out about:

  • A person’s heart size: If your heart is enlarged, you might have high blood pressure, degeneration of the heart valves, or heart failure. Additionally, echo can detect increased thickness in the ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart) caused by high blood pressure, heart valve disease, or a congenital heart defect.
  • Weak heart muscle: Heart attack weakens the heart muscles that adversely affect heart pumping. A weakening of heart muscle could also signify that the area doesn’t receive enough blood flow, indicating coronary heart disease.
  • Problems with the heart valves: Echo can also check heart valves to see if they usually open or close tightly.
  • Issues with the heart’s structure: A cardiac echo can detect holes in the heart, a type of congenital disability. Congenital disabilities affect the heart structure.
  • The presence of blood clots or tumors: Those who have experienced a stroke may undergo an Echo to determine whether clots or tumors are to blame for the stroke.

You might also be recommended an echo to evaluate how your heart responds to particular treatments of heart failure.

Types of Echocardiography

The echocardiography (Echo) process involves creating moving images of the heart by using sound waves. It is performed with x-rays and some other tests.

echocardiography types-min

Doctors can also use this technology for pregnant women to identify the heartbeat of the fetus/unborn baby as radiations are not involved in Echo.

1. Transthoracic Echocardiography:

An echocardiogram is most commonly a transthoracic (trans-ZTHOR-AS-ick) test. Neither is painful nor invasive. An “invasive” procedure is one in which no surgery is performed or instruments are inserted.

You will be asked to place a transducer on your chest to perform this Echo. An ultrasound device sends particular sound waves to your heart through your chest wall.

Humans cannot hear ultrasonic waves. The echo machine converts the ultrasound images onto a screen to bounce off the heart’s structures.

3. Stress Echocardiography:

In a stress test, a stress echo is performed. Your doctor gives you medicine or exercises to make your heartbeat fast during a stress test.

When you exercise, and immediately afterward, a technician will take images of your heart using Echo. When the heart is working hard and beating fast, specific heart problems can be detected more efficiently, such as coronary heart disease.

4. Transesophageal Echocardiography:

Transthoracic Echo is not always effective at revealing your aorta or other heart parts. In this case, the patient may be recommended a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) or transesophageal Echo. This test uses a flexible tube with a transducer attached to it.

Your esophagus (the path from your mouth to your stomach) is guided by the tube down your throat. This procedure is used to obtain detailed images of the heart.

5. Fetal Echocardiography:

Echocardiography is used to view a baby’s heart during pregnancy recommended by the doctor. Pregnant women are usually tested about 18 to 22 weeks after conception to detect heart problems in a baby. As part of this test, the transducer is moved over the expecting mother’s belly to get detailed pictures of the fetus’s heart.

Three-Dimensional Echocardiography

A three-dimensional echo is used to visualize the heart in three dimensions (3D). As part of the process used to do transthoracic Echo or TEE, 3D imaging can be taken that shows how it looks and functions.

Children’s heart problems can be diagnosed using 3D Echo. Additionally, 3D Echo is often used for planning and observing heart valve surgery. The use of 3D Echo continues to be studied by researchers.

Risks of Echocardiography

Echocardiography (ECHO) during pregnancy and in the thorax poses no risks. Neither adults nor children are at risk.

For transesophageal echo (TEE), the patient is recommended to take medicine to help him relax that may cause side effects such as breathing problems, nausea, and vomiting.

TEE usually causes minor injuries to the throat that leave you with a sore throat for several hours afterward.

There are risks associated with stress echo, but they’re associated with the exercise or medicine used to increase your heart rate, and not with the Echo itself.

References:

  • https://www.healthline.com/health/echocardiogram#types retrieved on 4th December, 2021.
  • https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1820912-overview retrieved on 4th December, 2021.
  • https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/diagnosing-echocardiogram retrieved on 4th December, 2021.

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