An echocardiogram is a diagnostic test that uses the echo of sound waves to map the heart and understand any potential concerns therein. An echo can improve visualization versus an X ray while, at the same time, not exposing the patient to radiation. There are two kinds of echocardiograms including a Transthoracic Echocardiogram / TTE — an external, non-invasive test, or a Transesophageal Echocardiogram or TEE that uses endoscopy to visualize the heart.
Transthoracic Echocardiogram (TTE)
With a TTE, a transducer is placed on your chest and pointed at the heart. This transducer generates sound waves that then echo back to the machine. The machine interprets these returning sound waves and can create a video-like image of the heart’s function. These images can be two- or three-dimensional and give your cardiologist a better idea of how the heart functions while it is beating. We can also visualize valves to see if there are any concerns.
With or without contrast
If the sonographer cannot get a clear picture of your heart, we may use contrast liquid to get a better picture. Your cardiologist will discuss the pros and cons of using contrast to get a better image of your heart.
A Doppler echocardiogram is the latest technology in echocardiography that allows your cardiologist to understand how blood moves through your heart in real time. Doppler echos give yet another layer of information to your cardiologist in understanding your heart’s function.
Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
If a traditional echocardiogram is not able to create a clear picture of the heart for your cardiologist, we may employ a transesophageal echocardiogram. The TEE uses similar technology but generates the image from inside the body. A minimally invasive procedure known as endoscopy is used to thread a probe down the esophagus. When pointed at the heart, the transducer has less interference from body tissue and bony structures like the ribs. During the procedure, you will be sedated and the back of the throat will be numbed.
What we can diagnose using an echocardiogram
- Heart failure
- Blood clots
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Damage from a heart attack
- Heart valve issues
- Infection or inflammation
- and more
Considerations of an echocardiogram
An external echocardiogram or TTE poses no risk whatsoever to the patient. However, there is a small chance of reaction to medication or damage to the esophagus if a TEE is performed. Your cardiologist will discuss these potential risks during your consultation. However, you can rest assured that if the test is ordered, we believe that the benefits of a more accurate diagnosis far outweigh the small risks.