Heart Studies & Tests
Heart Studies & Tests
An Echocardiogram is a non-invasive, safe and effective test to study the anatomy of the heart. It uses sound waves (ultrasound) to form images of the structures of the heart. The ultrasound and electrocardiography (ECG) signals are recorded simultaneously to be reviewed by the cardiologist. The test can evaluate the size of the different chambers of the heart, the function of the valves, the heart's pumping ability and identify other problems of the heart that may increase a person's risk for dangerous arrhythmias.
How does Ultrasound Work?
Ultrasound is a very high frequency sound wave. During an echocardiogram, these ultrasound waves are sent by a transducer (microphone-like device) through the patient's chest wall to the heart. The ultrasound beam hits different types of tissue in the heart (blood, muscle), all with various densities (thickness), and reflects back through the transducer. The machine analyzes the reflected ultrasound beams. The amount of time it took for the beam to travel through the body tissue and back to the transducer is analyzed and determines the size, shape, thickness and movement of the different structures in the heart.
How is the Test Performed?
A specially trained cardiologist or a technologist at the hospital or in a physician's office does the test. There is no preparation for this test and a patient may eat or drink prior to the study. A patient gown will be put on and the patient will be asked to lie down on an examination table. The lights in the room are dimmed to allow for better viewing of the monitor by the technologist or cardiologist performing the test.
Electrodes (ECG adhesive stickers that are attached to wires called leads) are placed on the patient's skin on the chest so that an ECG can be recorded with the ultrasound recordings during the test. Where the electrodes are placed is usually cleansed and possibly shaven to assure a good recording. A clear gel is applied to the chest and a transducer (a microphone-type device) is placed on the chest over the gel. It is moved around the chest so the technologist can record different views of the patient's heart. The patient may be asked to move from back to side, breathe slowly or hold their breath for a few seconds during the test. This helps improve the quality of the pictures recorded. The technologist is constantly monitoring the pictures on a monitor. He may also record a Doppler (speed of the blood running through the heart) echocardiogram and you will hear a swooshing sound correlating to your heartbeat. The whole test takes 20-30 minutes.
Why an Echocardiogram is Performed:
Determine the size of the chambers of the heart, which can change with conditions such as hypertension, heart damage with a myocardial infarction or congestive heart failure.
Determine the heart's pumping ability.
Identify the structure, thickness and movement of the heart valves.
Determine if there is fluid, blood clots or tumors in specific areas of the heart.
The Echocardiogram is recorded and reviewed by a cardiologist who provides a written report. If the patient's cardiologist is performing the test in his office, the results can be discussed immediately. If a technologist in the hospital does the exam, the results would become available to the patient's cardiologist to discuss with the patient.