An echocardiogram is a simple and painless procedure, yet it’s one of the most valuable and essential tests for identifying problems with your heart.
At Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute, Dr. Laura Fernandes and Dr. Emmanuel Achu perform in-office echocardiograms, giving them the ability to rapidly diagnose the cause of your symptoms and begin the treatment you need to improve your health and prevent serious complications.
Here, they explain what happens during an echocardiogram, the information they obtain from the test, and what they can learn about your heart.
You may need an echocardiogram when you have symptoms suggesting a heart condition, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and fainting.
An echocardiogram uses two types of ultrasound (sound waves) to produce images of your heart and blood vessels. A conventional ultrasound shows structural details, while a Doppler ultrasound captures movement, such as blood flowing through the coronary arteries.
We may perform one of two types of echocardiograms. During a standard echocardiogram (the most common procedure), we place the ultrasound transducer against your chest. The transducer then sends sound waves through your skin and into your body.
The second type, called a transesophageal echocardiogram, uses a small, slender transducer that we gently guide through your throat and into your esophagus, placing it near your heart. Though we don’t routinely perform this type of echocardiogram, it gives us sharper images because the sound waves don’t go through your skin.
In both types, the sound waves bounce back (“echo”) when they reach tissues and return to the transducer. Then the transducer sends the information to a computer that produces highly detailed images.
Information obtained from an echocardiogram
As we review the images produced by an echocardiogram, we can immediately see the size and shape of your heart and blood vessels. An echocardiogram shows muscle contractions as your heart pumps blood. It also reveals blood flowing through your heart and blood vessels.
We also see many problems in and around your heart, including:
- Fluid buildup
- Thickened or damaged heart walls
- Changes in chamber size
- Blocked blood vessels
- Blood clots
The images produced by an echocardiogram show the overall health of your heart, along with problems that affect the way your heart functions.
Conditions diagnosed during an echocardiogram
The exceptional images produced during an echocardiogram help us diagnose many cardiovascular problems.
A few examples include:
- Heart failure
- Congenital heart defects
- Coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis)
- Pericarditis (inflammation around the heart)
- Pericardial effusion (fluid around the heart)
- Leaky heart valves (regurgitation)
- Heart valve narrowing (stenosis)
- Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
- Atrial fibrillation and other heart arrhythmias
- Atrial and septal wall defects
- Muscle damage due to a heart attack
We may also perform an echocardiogram to manage existing heart conditions and make treatment decisions. Information from an echocardiogram shows the effectiveness of heart medications and procedures. It also helps us determine when you can safely increase your activity level after a heart attack.
Echocardiograms screen for heart problems
Health screenings are done to find early signs of cardiovascular disease before you have symptoms. We don’t routinely perform screening echocardiograms. However, you may need screening if you have a high risk for heart disease, such as a family history or lifestyle risks, or if you’re an athlete with changes in your heart rhythm.
If you have questions about echocardiograms or need to schedule the procedure, call our office in The Woodlands, Texas, or request an appointment online today.