What is an echocardiogram?

Echocardiogram (EKG)
EKG helps the doctor diagnose various heart conditions.

An echocardiogram (EKG) is a painless test that uses ultrasound to show the structure and function of the heart muscle. The ultrasound waves create pictures of the heart so the doctor can diagnose any abnormalities of the heart.

What does an echocardiogram test for?

An echocardiogram checks how the heart’s chambers and valves pump blood through the heart. It also helps in monitoring the heart’s rhythm and blood flow.

EKG helps the doctor diagnose various heart conditions. A doctor may order an echocardiogram to:

  • Diagnose heart problems, such as an enlarged heart or thick ventricles
  • Monitor heart valves after medical or surgical treatments 
  • Identify heart defects that are present at birth
  • Locate blood clots or tumors

What are the different types of echocardiogram tests?

The types of echocardiogram include the following tests.

Transthoracic echocardiogram

  • This is the standard test like an X-ray but without the radiation. Specialists use the same technology to check a baby’s health before birth. 
  • A technician places a hand-held device called a transducer on the chest. It sends high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) that bounce off your heart, creating images and sounds. 
  • Changes in the sound waves, called Doppler signals, can show the direction and speed of blood moving through the heart. 
  • The test takes about 40 minutes. 

Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)

  • For this test, a swallowing tube is used that can get a closer and clearer picture of the heart.
  • The patient may get a mild sedative to relax. 
  • A member of the medical team will pass the ultrasound probe into the mouth. It won’t affect breathing
  • Once the probe is in place, it will take pictures of your heart. 
  • The test takes about 10 to 30 minutes. Then the probe is taken out. 
  • Nurses will monitor the patient for 20 to 30 minutes afterward.

Stress echocardiogram

  • The patient can have this test while exercising on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. 
  • It shows the motion of the heart’s walls and pumping action when it’s working hard. It can also show a lack of blood flow that might not appear on other heart tests. 
  • For this procedure, an EKG electrode is placed on the chest. Heart activity, pulse, and blood pressure are monitored. 
  • The medical team may slowly raise the intensity of the bicycle or treadmill. In the meantime, they’ll watch the EKG monitor for changes and ask the patient about any symptoms. 
  • The patient will exercise until they can’t do it anymore. 
  • The team will monitor vital signs until they’re back to normal. 
  • The appointment takes about an hour, but the test itself usually takes less than 15 minutes.

Dobutamine stress echocardiogram

  • This is another form of stress echocardiogram. But instead of exercising, the patient gets a drug called dobutamine that makes the heart feel like it’s working hard. 
  • This test checks the heart and valves when a patient can’t exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike. 
  • The test monitors heart activity and figures out the risk of heart disease and how well any cardiac treatments are working. 
  • EKG electrodes are placed on the chest. 
  • Dobutamine is administered through the intravenous (IV) line. 
  • Patients may experience a warm, flushed feeling and sometimes a headache
  • The appointment may take about an hour, but the IV usually lasts about 15 minutes. The patient may be kept in the waiting room until any symptoms have gone away.

Intravascular ultrasound 

  • During this test, the transducer is sent up the heart blood vessels through a long narrow tube from the thigh region. 
  • It gives more detailed information about blockage inside blood vessels. 
  • EKG electrodes are placed on the chest; the patient is given a sedative to relax and also to numb the thigh region to make a small cut. 
  • A long, narrow tube is sent through the small cut to the arteries of the heart. 
  • The tube has a wire with an ultrasound tip inside that takes pictures of the artery. 
  • The test takes about an hour. 
  • A tight bandage is placed on the thigh region to prevent bleeding. 
  • The patient may lie flat with a straight leg for three to six hours. They might have to stay in the hospital overnight.

QUESTION

In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 7/8/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference
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