Tests for Heart & Vascular Disease
An ultrasound exam that uses sound waves to evaluate the size, pumping strength and valves of the heart. Specialized tests include:
Transesophageal: An ultrasound exam that uses sound waves to evaluate the size, pumping strength and valves of the heart. Sound waves are captured via a probe that is placed in the esophagus. Patients are lightly sedated for this procedure.
Stress Echo: An ultrasound exam that uses sound waves to evaluate the size, pumping strength and valves of the heart. The heart's function is assessed at rest and immediately following exercise (usually walking on a treadmill).
Pediatric Echo: An ultrasound exam performed on infants and children under the age of 15 to evaluate the size, pumping strength and valves of the heart. Very young children may require light sedation to keep them calm during the procedure.
Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram using medication to exercise the heart in order to evaluate heart function. This test is used if a patient is unable to walk on the treadmill.
During an echocardiogram, a small instrument called a transducer is held against the chest in four different locations. The transducer sends ultrasound waves into the body that bounce off various structures of the heart. The ultrasound machine receives the returning sound waves, and the computer creates a moving image of the heart. The images are displayed on a monitor. They can be recorded on videotape or stored digitally.
Why have an echocardiogram?
It can provide valuable information about the heart, including:
- The size of the heart chambers and the thickness of the heart muscle.
- The heart’s pumping strength, or the “squeeze” of the left ventricle (the heart’s main pumping chamber)
- Valve problems. Echo images can show the shape and motion of the four valves in the heart and whether a valve is leaking or does not open well enough.
- Echo images can also help to determine if there is fluid around the heart, blood clots or other masses inside the heart chambers, or abnormal holes between heart chambers.
Is it safe?
Very. Ultrasound has been used for more than 30 years, and there are no known risks or side effects. Ultrasound is painless, although there may be some slight discomfort from the pressure of the transducer.
What are the benefits?
This non-invasive test gives very good information about the structures of the heart and the blood flow through the heart with no risk to the patient.
What are the limitations?
It can be difficult to get quality images of the heart from patients who have broad chests, are obese or have lung disease.
How soon will I know the test results?
Usually patients discuss the results of the exam with their doctor at their next appointment.
Print a Quick Reference to Echocardiogram (pdf)