An echocardiogram is a Doppler ultrasound device. It is commonly used by cardiologists to view the heart, aorta, arteries and veins. Unlike x-rays, echocardiograms do not expose patients to radiation. The ultrasound transducer produces images by bouncing sound waves off the heart and the adjoining cardiovascular structures. The images provided from an echocardiogram test are vastly improved over those obtained by x-ray. Depending on the object and the angle, they can be two dimensional or three dimensional. As a result, the heart and the entire thoracic cardiovascular system can be viewed in greater detail.
Using the more detailed images produced from an echocardiogram provides your cardiologist with a beneficial opportunity to examine the heart, the aorta, the aortic arch and the connecting cardio-pulmonary system. In addition to producing more detailed 2-D and 3-D images, the Doppler ultrasound transducer is able to capture moving images. This allows your cardiologist to watch your heart and cardiovascular structures in motion.
An echocardiogram may be recommended if you have one or more significant risk factors or symptoms of cardiovascular disease. If you have already been diagnosed with a heart disease or other relevant medical condition you may be scheduled for an echocardiogram. Sometimes patients receive echocardiograms every year or two as a method of observing and monitoring a pre-existing condition. After your echocardiogram, Dr. Alonso will review the results and discuss them with you.
There two different types of echocardiogram tests available, the transthoracic echocardiogram and the transesophageal echocardiogram. Generally, the transthoracic echocardiogram is preferred. It is completely non-invasive and usually causes no patient discomfort. However, sometimes the patient has body tissue, organs or other obstructions that block the view of the heart and surrounding area. In these cases, a transesophageal echocardiogram will be conducted. This procedure is slightly invasive and may cause the patient some minor, temporary discomfort.
During a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) you will lie on your back and the sonographer will attach electrodes to your chest and apply a special gel to the area where the transducer will be placed. The sonographer will place the transducer on your chest. It will emit sound waves and receive the returning echoes as they bounce back. The echocardiographic computer will interpret and convert the impulses into still and moving images that can be viewed on a monitor.
If you’re having a tranesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) you cannot eat for six hours prior and you may only drink water two hours prior to the test. For the TEE, electrodes will be placed on your chest, and a pulse oximeter and blood pressure cuffs will be placed appropriately. You will receive an anesthetic for your throat and an IV for mild sedation; however, you will remain awake. You will lie on your left side while a thin endoscope is inserted in your throat. The transducer on the end of the endoscope will collect images. A TTE will take about an hour. You’ll have to wait 30 to 60 minutes to eat or drink, starting with water.