If you experience symptoms suggesting a heart problem, you need diagnostic tests that are fast and reliable. Most people expect to have an electrocardiogram (EKG), which shows your heart’s electrical activity. But you may not be familiar with the second crucial diagnostic test: an echocardiogram.
At Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute, Dr. Laura Fernandes provides comprehensive care for your heart, including performing essential diagnostic testing on site. With an echocardiogram, she can quickly see your heart in real time, including muscle and valve movement and blood flow.
With the information from your echocardiogram, we can diagnose the problem and give you the prompt care you need.
Let’s explore why echocardiograms are vital and talk about the three basic types.
Why we perform echocardiograms
An echocardiogram, also called a heart ultrasound or sonogram, creates images of your heart using safe sound waves.
A conventional ultrasound reveals the heart’s structures, while a Doppler ultrasound shows movement. By combining the two, we can see:
- The size and shape of your heart and blood vessels
- Blood flow through your heart and blood vessels
- Muscle contractions as your heart pumps blood
- Thickened or damaged heart walls
- The size of each chamber
- Valve movement
- Blocked blood vessels
- Fluid accumulation
- Blood clots
The information from an echocardiogram allows us to diagnose most heart problems, ranging from heart attacks, heart failure, and coronary artery disease (CAD), to leaky heart valves and irregular heartbeats.
Three types of echocardiograms
We perform three primary types of echocardiograms, ensuring you get the immediate care you need in one place. You may need one or more, depending on your symptoms and the results of your first test.
Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE)
A transthoracic echocardiogram is the standard echo and the one we typically perform first. We place a handheld device (the transducer) against your chest over your heart, and slowly move it around to get the best image.
The transducer sends the sound waves into your body, they bounce off structures, return to the transducer, and from there go to a computer. We can immediately view the images on a monitor and see the details of your heart.
Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
Sometimes a transthoracic echo doesn’t give us enough details about certain structures. If that happens, we may perform a transesophageal echocardiogram.
During a TEE, we numb your throat and give you sedation to ensure your comfort. Then we gently guide a narrow, flexible tube through your mouth and into your esophagus. The tube holds a tiny ultrasound probe that obtains images from inside your body.
One section of the esophagus lies directly behind your heart. We position the transducer in that area and send ultrasound waves toward your heart.
TEEs produce sharper images because the sound waves don’t pass through your skin, muscle, bones, fat, and other tissues.
This evaluation combines a stress test with an echocardiogram. We perform a transthoracic echocardiogram, then you take a stress test.
During a stress test, you typically walk on a treadmill, while we simultaneously record your EKG and blood pressure. If you can’t tolerate exercise, we can inject a medication that makes your heart work harder, duplicating the effect of exercise.
As soon as you finish the stress test, we take another echocardiogram. This gives us “before” and “after” images of your heart, allowing us to see exactly what happens when your heart is forced to pump more blood through your body.
In addition to diagnosing heart problems, we also do stress echocardiograms before and after interventional heart treatments. The results show how well your treatment worked and if you’re ready to begin an exercise program.
If you have chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, or swollen legs, don’t wait to schedule an evaluation. Call our office in The Woodlands, Texas, or book an appointment online today.