An echocardiogram is an ultrasound test for your heart. It’s also one of the best ways to examine the valves and chambers of your heart.
One type of echocardiogram used at Saint Francis Medical Center is a transesophageal echocardiogram. In this procedure, the cardiologist passes a tube with a transducer on the end into the esophagus to obtain clear images of your heart.
“Other types of echocardiograms obtain their images outside of your body, which means the images of your heart might be slightly obscured by your lungs and the bones in your chest wall,” says Rebecca L. Smith, MD, FACC, FASE, cardiologist/echocardiologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “Since transesophageal echocardiograms, however, view your heart from inside the body, this type of test gives cardiologists a clearer picture of the structure of your heart. Patients should know that this procedure will not hurt them, since we give them medications to help them relax.”
Although most types of echocardiograms are taken when the patient is at rest, a stress echocardiogram is taken before and after exercise. The goal of this type of echocardiogram is to determine how effectively your heart pumps blood to the rest of your body.
“Stress echocardiography is a fantastic tool, since it sometimes reveals heart problems that other tests cannot,” says Smith. “Since the patient’s heart rate is elevated from exercise, a stress echocardiogram can show if you have coronary artery disease, or decreased blood flow to your heart.”
The most common type of echocardiogram is a transthoracic echocardiogram. This type is most similar to the ultrasound that an expectant mother would receive. In this test, a technician spreads gel on your chest, presses the transducer against your skin and records the echoes of your heart, which are then converted into moving images on a monitor.
Doppler echocardiography measures the speed and direction of your blood flow, and thereby detects any problems with blood flow or blood pressure, by measuring the changes in pitch from the sound waves in your heart.