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Echocardiogram

Alternate Names

  • transesophageal echocardiogram
  • echocardiography
  • Doppler ultrasound of the heart

Definition

An echocardiogram uses ultrasound waves to create an image of the heart. An echocardiogram helps the healthcare provider evaluate a person's heart valves and chambers.

Who is a candidate for the test?

Many people with heart disease are candidates for an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram may also be done before other procedures, to provide a picture of overall heart structure and function.
Echocardiography can help diagnose the following conditions:
  • congenital heart disease, or defects that are present at birth
  • coronary artery disease
  • diseases of the sac and fluid that surround the heart
  • problems with the muscles of the heart
  • problems with the structure of the heart, such as the chambers, valves, or aorta
  • patients with congestive heart failure

How is the test performed?

For this test, the doctor or technician places a device called a transducer on the chest and aims it at the heart. The transducer sends out and receives sound waves that bounce off the heart. A computer takes these returning sound waves, or echoes, and turns them into a picture of the heart.
In some cases, the picture of the heart may not be clear because of obesity, a barrel chest, or lung disorders. In these cases, the healthcare provider can do transesophageal echocardiography. For this test, the provider numbs the person's throat. Then a special transducer is placed inside the throat and down into the esophagus. From there, the sound waves are aimed at the heart.

What is involved in preparation for the test?

Generally, no preparation is required for an echocardiogram. There are no side effects known. It is safe to use in pregnant women.

What do the test results mean?

A normal echocardiogram displays normal heart chambers and valves. It also shows normal heart movement.
An abnormal echocardiogram may indicate the following:
  • blood clots in the heart
  • cardiomyopathy, or a weakening of the heart muscle
  • congenital heart disease
  • fluid in the sac around the heart
  • heart valve disease
  • other heart abnormalities

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