An echocardiogram - also called a Doppler, heart ultrasound or “echo” - is a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart. Just as a baby in the mother’s uterus can be visualized with ultrasound, pictures of the heart can help doctors evaluate the heart’s structures, including the muscles and valves. Doctors may be able to see a hole in the wall that divides the left and right sides of the heart or a deformity of a heart valve, for example, as well as the following:
- The motion of the muscular walls in the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles) provides insight into the heart’s pumping power.
- The flow of blood within the heart, which can be seen on a color Doppler echocardiogram, helps doctors identify and assess such abnormalities as a leaky heart valve.
- Pressure differences between one part of the heart and another can help detect heart muscle or valve problems.
There are three types of echocardiography: echocardiogram, transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) and intracardiac echocardiogram (ICE). An echocardiogram takes images within the body from the skin’s surface, without devices entering the body. For TEE, images are taken from within the esophagus (food pipe), and ICE involves taking images from within the heart. TEE and ICE can provide more detailed images than traditional echocardiography. Keep reading to learn more about echocardiograms and TEE tests. More information about ICE is available alongside a description for angiograms – the test with which ICE is typically performed.
How Does It Work?
Echocardiography uses ultrasound waves to make a picture of structures moving inside the heart. These harmless sound waves travel from an instrument, called a transducer, placed on the chest and left rib cage. As the sound waves reflect back from structures in the heart to the transducer, the echocardiogram machine receives and interprets them - and creates a picture of the heart’s internal structures. As the transducer continuously emits ultrasound waves, it also receives continuous feedback from the heart. The result is a picture of the heart muscles, valves and blood vessels in motion.
How Is It Performed?
A slippery gel is applied to the outside of the chest of the patient as he or she lies on a table. A trained ultrasound technician moves a transducer over the patient’s chest to collect different “views” of the heart. The test takes 30 to 60 minutes to complete.
Is It Safe?
There are no known risks associated with echocardiography. Some mild soreness of the rib cage may occur.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Echocardiograms
The following questions can help you talk to your physician about echocardiograms, transesophageal echocardiograms, and intracardiac echocardiograms. Consider printing out or writing down these questions and taking them with you to your appointment. Taking notes can help you remember your physician’s response when you get home.
- What can an echocardiogram tell us about my heart?
- What happens next if the echocardiogram reveals a potential problem?
Please print this list of questions here. Take them with you to the doctor and share them with friends and loved ones when you are encouraging them to see their doctors.