WHAT IS AN ECHOCARDIOGRAM?

An echocardiogram is a noninvasive (meaning the skin is not pierced) procedural method used to survey the heart's functional capacity and structures. During the procedure, a transducer (which is like a microphone) conveys out ultrasonic sound waves at a frequency too high to be registered at the regular hearing level. When the transducer is placed on the chest at specific locations and angles, the ultrasonic waves travel through the skin and other body tissues to the heart structures. These sound waves are sent to a computer to the create moving images of the heart walls and valves.

HOW LONG DOES THE PROCEDURE TAKE?

On average the time it takes for a 2-D Echocardiogram is estimated to be an hour.

TYPES OF ECHOCARDIOGRAPHY

Listed below are several special types of echocardiography utilized by an echocardiogram procedure:

  • 2-D (Two-Dimensional) echocardiography - This technique is used to "see" actual real-time movement of the heart structures. A 2-D echo view appears cone-shaped on the monitor and the real-time movements of the heart's structures can be observed. This allows the doctor to see the various heart structures at work and assess them.
  • 3-D (Three-Dimensional) echocardiography - This technique captures three-dimensional perspectives of the heart structures with more prominent depth than a 2-D echo. The live or "real-time" imaging allows a more accurate capacity assessment of heart function by using measurements taken while the heart is beating. 3-D echo depicts enhanced perspectives of the heart's anatomy and can be used to determine the appropriate plan of treatments to a person with coronary illnesses.
  • Color Doppler - This is an improved type of Doppler echocardiography. With color Doppler, different colors are used to designate the direction of the blood stream. This then simply enhances the interpretation of the doppler technique.
  • Doppler echocardiography - This particular technique is used to measure, evaluate and survey 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 working functionality. Additionally, Doppler can detect and distinguish abnormal blood flow within the heart, which can indicate an issue with at least one of the heart's four valves, or with the heart's walls.
  • M-mode echocardiography - This is the simplest type of echocardiography, this procedure produces an image that will act as a tracer rather than having an actual picture of the heart structures, this makes it more tailored to you as you can personally see traced images of your heart structures rather than just a general depiction of heart structures as seen in pictures or models. This method is useful for measuring the heart structures, such as the heart's pumping chambers, the size of the heart itself, and the thickness of the heart walls.

Other related procedures that may be utilized to assess the heart include resting or exercise electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), Holter monitor, signal-averaged ECG, cardiac catheterization, chest X-ray, computed tomography (CT scan) of the chest, electrophysiological studies, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the heart, myocardial perfusion scans, radionuclide angiography and cardiac CT scan. Please see these procedures for additional information.

REASONS WHY YOU WOULD NEED TO UNDERGO THIS PROCEDURE

An echocardiogram may be performed for further evaluation of signs or symptoms that may indicate:

  • Aneurysm - An arterial condition in which the wall of an artery weakens, creating a bulge, or distention of the artery. When the bulge ruptures, it causes internal bleeding and this can occur in important arteries such as those supplying blood to the brain, and the aorta. An aneurysm also occurs in the peripheral arteries, quite commonly behind the knee (also known as a popliteal aneurysm), however the probability of an event of a rupture in these areas do not occur as commonly.
  • Atherosclerosis - Is a condition where arteries harden and narrow due to plaque build up along side the endothelium. This condition silently and slowly blocks major arteries, putting blood flow at extensive risk and is one of the main identifiable causes of heart attacks, strokes and peripheral vascular disease -- what is collectively known as cardiovascular disease.Cardiac tumor - Abnormal growths centered in the heart or heart valves are known as cardiac tumors, however occurrences of cardiac tumors are quite rare in general. Tumors that start growth in the area of the heart and stay there are known as primary tumors. Secondary tumors are those that start their growth in another part of the body and then settle in the heart. Tumors fall between malignant or otherwise cancerous abnormalities and benign otherwise known as noncancerous abnormalities. Most occuring cardiac tumors are noncancerous, however this does not mean that they can't cause problems due to their size and location. There are times when small pieces of a tumor may fall into the bloodstream and get in the way of blood flow to vital organs.
    • *Plaque - is made up of cholesterol, calcium, fatty substances and cellular waste products found in the blood
    • *Endothelium - is a thin layer of cells that keeps the artery smooth and allows an easy flow of blood
  • Cardiomyopathy - This is a condition of the heart when the muscles of the heart function abnormally. The heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or rigid and in some rare cases the muscle tissue is replaced with scar tissue. As the condition worsens, the heart eventually becomes weaker and unstable causing several issues such as heart failure and irregular heartbeats also known as arrhythmias.
  • Congenital heart disease - This condition is used to describe birth defects affecting the heart and is currently the most common type of birth defect. These defects include the interior walls of the heart, the valves inside the heart as well as the arteries and veins that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body and back to the heart. The complexity of congenital heart defects range from the simple to the severe life-threatening symptoms.
  • Congestive heart failure - Is a condition in which the heart can't pump blood at the normal rate your body should be receiving. Failure to meet the body's needs does not mean that your heart has stopped or that it's about to stop, it just means that the rate your heart is pumping against the required normal rate your body should be operating at is relatively low or weakened. As such, the pressure in the heart increases causing several other issues to arise, such as retention of fluid (e.g water) and salt. Fluid and salt build up around different organs of the body causes the body to become congested and this is what the term describes as the condition.
  • Pericarditis - Is a condition in which the sac-like covering around the heart (referred to as the pericardium) becomes enflamed. Swelling and irritation of the pericardium causes chest pain and sometimes other symptoms. Most cases are mild and tend to improve on their own, although it usually begins suddenly but doesn't last long, however severe cases include medications, yet surgery is rarely involved.
  • Valvular heart disease - This occurs when a malfunction of one or more of the heart valves may cause an abnormality in the bloodstream within the heart.

RISKS OF THE PROCEDURE

Echocardiograms are considered to be very safe. In comparison to other imaging techniques for example x-rays, echocardiograms do not use radiation. For some patients, experiencing some slight pain or discomforts may arise due to having to lie still on the examination table for the length of the procedure. Any risks however is reduced since the procedure is monitored and supervised.

AFTER THE PROCEDURE

Explanations before and during the procedure will be guided to you by your doctor. However, please consult with your doctor about any specific conditions he or she may not know, this includes all medications and prescriptions regularly taken as well as internal devices such as pacemakers.

After the procedure all usual diets and activities may be resumed unless your doctor advises you differently. In general, there is no special type of care following the procedure yet depending on your particular situation your doctor may advise additional or alternate instructions.