What Happens During an Echocardiogram?

When you experience symptoms that signal a potential heart problem, we need a quick-and-easy way to look at the structures in your heart and see how they’re working. That’s when we turn to an echocardiogram.

An echocardiogram provides the invaluable information that Dr. Laura Fernandes at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute needs to diagnose the source of your symptoms and provide the individualized care that’s best for you.

Echocardiogram basics

When we perform an echocardiogram, we use a device called a transducer to send sound waves safely through your skin and into your heart.

The sound waves bounce off the structures they encounter, return to the transducer, and then that device sends them to a computer. The computer turns the sound waves into amazingly detailed images.

When we perform an echocardiogram, we get information about problems such as:

An echocardiogram allows us to see your heart muscles contracting and relaxing and the valves opening and closing.

During your echocardiogram

A standard echocardiogram, called a transthoracic echocardiogram, doesn’t require any special preparation. You simply come in at your scheduled time, and your procedure begins by taking off your shirt, putting on a hospital gown, and getting comfortable on the table.

If we plan to do an electrocardiogram (EKG) at the same time as your echocardiogram, we begin by placing self-adhesive electrodes on your chest. Next, we put transducer gel on the skin over your heart. The gel creates a connection between your skin and the transducer that makes it easier for the sound waves to enter your body.

Now that all the preparation is finished, we dim the lights in the room because that makes it easier to see the results on the monitor. Then we perform the echocardiogram by placing the transducer against your skin and moving it around your chest.

We may ask you to lay on your left side or to hold your breath for a short time. Sometimes we have to press down to get the best images so you may feel the pressure. Otherwise, an echocardiogram should never cause pain. You only need to relax while we do the ultrasound.

Other types of echocardiograms

You may need testing that goes beyond the standard echocardiogram, often called an “echo.” We frequently perform two other types, a stress echo and a transesophageal echo.

Stress echocardiogram

We may combine your echocardiogram with a stress test, which means we do the echo, you do the stress test, and then we perform a second echo. By comparing the before and after echocardiograms, we can see what happens inside your heart when exercise forces it to work harder and pump more blood.

While the echo procedure is the same as a standard echo, your stress test consists of raising your heart rate by walking on a treadmill. During your stress test, we closely monitor your blood pressure and capture your heart’s electrical activity with an EKG.

Transesophageal echocardiogram

Sometimes we need a better image of certain areas of your heart than we can get with a standard echocardiogram. When that happens, you may need to have a transesophageal echo.

We begin by numbing your throat and giving you medication to help you relax. We do the echo using a slim, flexible tube that holds the transducer. We guide the tube down your throat and into the esophagus. Then we direct the transducer toward your heart and get the echocardiogram.

This type of echocardiogram produces sharp images because the esophagus passes behind the heart, and the sound waves don’t need to go through your skin and ribs.

If you have any questions about echocardiograms, call us at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute in The Woodlands, Texas, or request an appointment online today.

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