• What Is An Echocardiogram?
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|What Is An Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is also referred to as an echo or echocardiography. Echocardiography uses ultrasound high-frequency sound waves to produce detailed images of the heart. There are different types of echocardiograms which are used to test various aspects of the heart including it's size, shape, contractions and how blood flows through it and the arteries. The most important function of the echo is to confirm the diagnosis of heart disease after a physical examination. More than 5 million echos are completed every year in the USA. It is the same technology that is used in pregnancy ultrasound scans for checking fetus development. The sound waves enter the body through a handheld device called a transducer. They bounce off internal structures and fluids in the heart and return echoes back through the transducer. The echoes are then converted into images on a computer screen. While very few diseases are diagnosed solely by echocardiographic criteria (a heart catheterization or specifically coronary angiography is still necessary), it is an important tool in the diagnosis of most types of heart disease.
Measuring Blood Turbulence
Echocardiograms can be performed in a doctor’s office or hospital. No special preparation is needed for a resting echo, other types are mentioned further below. The patient removes their clothes and is given a gown to wear (or women will be covered with a sheet for privacy if they just take their top off). She then lies on an examination table and sticky patches called electrodes are attached to her chest and shoulders. These will help to record the heart's electrical impulses or electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) during the echocardiogram. The set up procedure is the same as for an electrocardiogram. Next the technician will apply a colorless gel to the chest to help with the transmission. He will then move the transducer over the heart area while images are recorded on a nearby screen. You may be asked to lie in several different positions and to breath slowly or to hold your breath. The whole procedure takes about 40 minutes. The images are recorded on tape and then reviewed by a physician before completion of the final report.Is It Safe?
It is extremely safe, there are no known risks. However image quality may be limited in obese patients and those with obstructive lung disease.
What Are The Risks? Risk factors for heart disease.
If the doctor is present during the test you may receive your results before leaving his office. However more commonly a doctor is not present and you will have to wait several days for the full results. If the test does not reveal any issues you may get your results by phone. A physician may call you directly if they discover any unexpected findings.symptoms of coronary heart disease they will sometimes order a stress echocardiogram. Comparing the images of a rested heart (the regular echo) next to stressed images can be informative. A stressed image can show abnormalities in areas of the heart that do not (but should) move when the heart is made to work harder. Stress echocardiography is usually carried out using exercise as the stress – the patient will be required to use a treadmill or stationary bike - this is known as an exercise stress test. The main advantage of a stress echo over a stress ECG is that the echo can better highlight areas of the heart not receiving adequate blood supply. Once the patient has reached a certain target heart rate on the exercise machine they are immediately moved to the examination table where the echocardiogram begins. The same procedure is applied - gel is applied to the chest area and a transducer is used to take images. The entire expanded test takes about an hour and a half.
In some instances 'stress' may not be induced by exercise, but chemically induced with the use of dobutamine which makes the heart pump faster. A dobutamine echocardiogram may be used to check for blockages in the valves of the heart, specifically for evaluating aortic valve disease. The dobutamine is injected directly into the arm and takes a few minutes to take effect. Once it starts working, an echo is performed as normal. The results of the test will help doctors determine if valve surgery or other treatments such as heart bypass surgery may help the heart function better.
Heart Facts, see: American Heart Disease Facts and UK Heart Disease Facts
stroke in women) and checks communications between the left and right side of the heart. Microbubbles derived from agitated saline are injected into the blood stream. If they find their way to the left atrium and ventricle it can indicate a problem. Bubble studies are considered safe.
The second type of contrast echocardiogram uses different contrast agents - most commonly microbubbles which are encapsulated in a shell of carbohydrate, protein or lipid. This test may be performed on people whose images from a regular echocardiogram are poor, possibly because the patient is obese or has emphysema. The risks associated with this type of test are debatable as it has caused a handful of deaths. The FDA requires patients be warned before contrast agents are used. It suggests that it should not be used on patients with serious heart arrhythmia, those with a shunt or who have had a heart attack or heart failure exacerbations. As with all tests, doctors will weigh the risks and benefits. Most physicians feel that contrast echocardiograms can be performed, when required, quite safely.
Although a standard echocardiogram is good for seeing structures near the surface of the chest wall, a transesophageal echocardiogram can go deeper. The test is similar to a routine echo except that the ultrasound probe is inserted into the esophagus using an endoscopic probe. The patient will need to be sedated but the procedure is very safe. It is most commonly carried out to assess the mitral valves and to check for signs of infections in the valves and blood clots.
The average price of a standard echocardiogram is $1,400 and this rises to $3,300 for a transesophageal echocardiogram. The cost is usually covered by insurance, although there may be an out of pocket expense of up to $200.
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