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Understanding The Echocardiogram

The echocardiogram is a common test used by doctors to help diagnose or monitor a variety of conditions that can occur within our hearts. Unlike an x-ray, echocardiograms do not expose patients to radiation and also provide a more detailed look at the heart and the area surrounding the heart.

Doctors can use the information from these images to look for signs of heart disease or simply to check the function of your heart in general. The doctor will be able to see the chambers of the heart as well as the valves and the lining of the heart. A doctor can use this test to monitor the way blood flows in and out of the heart. The echocardiogram can be used safely on patients of all ages, including infants.

This procedure, often known simply as an echo, is non-invasive and a trained technician simply places a device called a transducer on your skin near the heart. This transducer releases sound waves, and the sound waves are then converted into electrical impulses and this produce images which appear on the screen of the ultrasound machine. This is the most basic type of echo and is known as a transthoracic echocardiogram. It is completely painless and safe.

Sometimes the echo does not provide a clear image and perhaps the lungs or other tissue are obstructing the view. When this occurs, contrast liquid might be injected into the body through an IV to provide a clearer picture. This contrast liquid is an agitated saline solution.

Another common type of echo is called the transesophageal echocardiogram, and this is slightly more invasive but still much less invasive that exploratory surgery. Also, this test does not transmit radiation to a patient as an x-ray would. With this procedure, known also as a TEE, the back of the patient’s throat is numbed and a scope is placed down the throat to the lower portion of your esophagus. Sounds waves are then sent out and this provides a picture or image of your heart.

Due to the requirement of sedation of the patient and more invasive nature of the TEE, a physician will conduct this test and not a sonographer. This type of echo is less common that the transthoracic echocardiogram, but the images usually are much clearer with a TEE and sometimes this is needed.

The stress echocardiograph is another way in which ultrasound machines are used to help diagnose issues with the heart. This usually is just called a cardiac stress test or perhaps a stress echo. This test is used to determine the effects of stress or work on the heart. The patient will have a transthoracic echo performed first. Then the heart will be stimulated, typically by having the patient walk on a treadmill. The heart will be monitored throughout the test and after its completion, another echo will be performed. The patient also will be monitored during the test using an electrocardiogram or EKG or ECG, as they also are called. This monitors the electrical activity in the heart before, during and after the stress test.

There are many different types and brands of ultrasound machines that are used for these tests. For instance, your doctor might use a GE ultrasound machine or perhaps a Toshiba ultrasound machine or Philips ultrasound machine. Often, a pre-owned ultrasound machine is used, as these are much more cost-effective for doctors and, ultimately, patients.

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