Echocardiogram (Echo)

Transthoracic echocardiography

This test is safe and easy and doesn’t hurt. A recorder (probe) is placed on your chest and a pulse of high-frequency sound is passed through the skin of your chest. Lubricating jelly is rubbed on your chest first, to help make a good contact with the probe. You can see different parts of the heart as the probe is moved around on your chest. Recording these images is a skilful job and can take up to half an hour.

The echocardiogram can give accurate information about the pumping action of the heart, and about the structure of the heart and its valves. It is also used routinely to assess people with valvular heart disease (disease of the heart valves).

echo

There are different types of echoes being performed-

Colour Doppler echo is to assess blood flow in the heart valves

Bubble contrast echo is used to assess for shunting of blood from one side to other

Stress echo to assess for reduced blood supply to heart during stress

Transesophageal echo

Transthoracic echocardiography

This test is safe and easy and doesn’t hurt. Bats can fly in the dark by sending out pulses of sound and listening for echoes reflected from objects around them. A similar idea is used when you have an echocardiogram.

What happens?

A recorder (probe) is placed on your chest and a pulse of high-frequency sound is passed through the skin of your chest. Lubricating jelly is rubbed on your chest first, to help make a good contact with the probe. The probe then picks up the echoes reflected from various parts of the heart and shows them as an echocardiogram – a picture on a screen. You can see different parts of the heart as the probe is moved around on your chest. Recording these images is a skilful job and can take up to an hour.

What can the test show?

The echocardiogram can give accurate information about the pumping action of the heart, and about the structure of the heart and its valves. It is a useful test if you have recently had a heart attack or if you have heart failure. It is also used routinely to assess people with valvular heart disease (disease of the heart valves). It is especially useful for diagnosing heart disease in newborn babies and infants, because it doesn’t hurt and it is easy to do.

It usually avoids the need for the child to have more complicated, and possibly more traumatic, tests. Echocardiograms are also used to diagnose certain heart defects before a child is born (foetal echocardiograms).

Varieties of Echo

There are different types of echoes being performed-

Colour Doppler echo is to assess blood flow in the heart valves

Bubble contrast echo is used to assess for shunting of blood from one side to other

Stress echo to assess for reduced blood supply to heart during stress

Transesophageal echo

Stress echocardiogram

Occasionally, an echocardiogram is done after the heart has been put under stress – either with exercise or with a drug. This test can help to diagnose coronary heart disease. If parts of the heart are damaged, they will contract less effectively and this shows up on the echocardiogram.

Transesophageal echocardiography

With this procedure, detailed pictures of the heart are taken from the gullet (oesophagus), which lies behind the heart. You ‘swallow’ a small probe, which is mounted at the end of a flexible tube. To help you, an anaesthetic will be sprayed on the back of your throat. While the probe is in your gullet it takes ‘pictures’ of your heart. The pictures are taken quite quickly and the tube and probe are then gently withdrawn. You may have a light sedative first, just to help you relax. This test is particularly useful when doctors need a closer and more defined image of the heart valves and the areas around them.

IVUS

IVUS stands for ‘intravascular ultrasound’. This is a technique for taking ultrasound pictures of the wall of an artery from inside the artery itself. It shows the thickness of the artery wall and any narrowings of the artery. The pictures are taken using a fine ultrasound probe attached to the tip of the same type of catheter used for doing a coronary angiogram. The catheter is passed into an artery in the groin, in the same way as for the angiogram. The probe works in the same way as

the probe used for doing an echocardiogram. The pictures of the arteries are displayed on a television screen. IVUS pictures are usually taken at the same time as doing a coronary angiogram. Taking IVUS pictures does not widen any narrowed parts of the arteries; it just provides pictures of any narrowings which may be there.

 

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