An echocardiogram is a common diagnostic procedure that uses ultrasound waves – typically from a held-held wand known as a transducer – to produce images of the heart while it is beating. There are several types of echocardiograms available, and the images produced can either be in black-and-white or in colour.
Echocardiograms are a useful tool for diagnosing various heart disorders and can help doctors determine the best course of treatment for any issues discovered during this procedure. An echocardiogram is generally used to measure the size and function of the heart’s chambers, study the heart valves and their movements, as well as assess both heart muscle contraction and blood flow.
As such, echocardiograms help detect:
Additionally, echocardiograms can help doctors to track the progress of any heart disease over time, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of completed surgeries or any other ongoing treatments.
Your experience during an echocardiogram will largely depend on the type of echocardiogram you will be undergoing. There are several types of echocardiograms, and your doctor will choose the one best suited to your individual needs. These are:
This is the standard type of echocardiogram, where a transducer is held to the patient’s chest in order to obtain images of the heart. You will first be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up and given a hospital gown. Electrodes will be attached to your skin to monitor the heart’s electrical activity. A water-soluble gel will be applied to your chest before the transducer is moved back and forth on the chest. You may be asked to breathe or lay down in a particular way during the procedure. If necessary, a contrast injection will be administered to enhance the images produced during the echocardiogram.
This is highly similar to a transthoracic echocardiogram. However, it will be performed before and after physical activity – such as walking on the treadmill or riding a stationary bicycle – in order to measure how the heart functions under stress. In cases where physical exercise cannot be carried out, a drug known as dobutamine will be administered to induce a faster heartbeat.
For transthoracic echocardiograms, no preparations will be required. You may eat, drink, and take any necessary medications as per normal. You should also wear comfortable clothing that is easy to change out of.
If you are undergoing a transoesophageal echocardiogram, you may be asked to abstain from food and drink for up to 8 hours before the procedure. You will also need to arrange for transportation home after the procedure.
In cases of a stress echocardiogram, you will most likely be asked to abstain from food or drink for 4 hours before your procedure. Drinking water is permitted during this time. You should not consume any caffeine in the 24 hours preceding the echocardiogram and should not smoke on the day of the procedure. Some medications will have to be stopped prior to the procedure as well.
Echocardiograms are low-risk diagnostic tests that are suitable for all types of patients. However, if you do have concerns, let your cardiologist know so that you can undergo this diagnostic test comfortably and with confidence.
No radiation is used during an echocardiogram, which is known to be a very low-risk procedure.
Standard transthoracic echocardiograms carry no known risks, can be performed repeatedly, and present no danger to pregnant mothers or their foetuses. However, there are certain uncommon risks associated with the use of contrast dyes.
Transesophageal echocardiograms may cause soreness in the throat for a few hours following the procedure. There is also a very small risk of the tube scraping inside of the throat and causing injury. However, oxygen levels and heart activity are constantly monitored during this test to ensure a patient’s safety.
During a stress echocardiogram, the physical exercise performed or medication given to induce a faster heartbeat may temporarily cause your heartbeat to become irregular. However, the risk of serious complications – such as a heart attack – is low, and you will be carefully monitored during the procedure.
Echocardiograms are low-risk procedures that function as a useful diagnostic tool for cardiologists. They can be used to find a wide range of structural issues present in the heart, and can also assess how well the heart is functioning at any given time. Once a problem has been identified, the results of an echocardiogram will help your cardiologist determine the best treatment plan to meet your individual needs.
Dr Devinder Singh is the Medical Director of Cadence Heart Centre. He is an experienced Senior Consultant Cardiologist & Cardiac Electrophysiologist with over 20 years of clinical experience.
His expertise lies in clinical cardiology, cardiac rhythm disorders (arrhythmia), cardiac pacing (including cardiac resynchronisation therapy) and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging. He performs electrophysiology studies and radiofrequency ablation of cardiac arrhythmias, and is well versed in pacemaker and deﬁbrillator insertions.
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