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Echocardiography uses sound waves to create two-dimensional moving images of your heart. During an echocardiogram a small, micro-phone like device called a transducer is used to generate sound waves which echo off your heart structures. The echoes are converted into a moving image of your heart, allowing the doctor to evaluate the size of your heart chambers, the function of your heart valves, and the pumping action and blood flow through your heart.
During a transthoracic echocardiorgram, the transducer is placed on your chest to capture images of your heart's structure and function. An echocardiogram usually takes only about 30 minutes to complete and is a painless, completely non-invasive procedure.
To enhance the quality of the pictures, sometimes a contrast echocardiogram is done. In this procedure, an intravenous (IV) catheter will be placed in your arm and a specialized contrast for ultrasound use (not a dye) will be injected into your blood stream. This contrast enhances the images obtained with the echocardiogram machine. A contrast echocardiogram may enable more accurate diagnosis of your heart condition and provide better guidance for treatment and monitoring. An echocardiogram with contrast usually takes about an hour.
Your physician may request a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE). This type of echocardiogram records pictures of your heart from a transducer that is placed in your esophagus, or food pipe. The esophagus lies just behind the heart and a TEE may produce clearer pictures, especially of the mitral valve. This type of echo will require you to refrain from eating or drinking for 4 to 6 hours before the test. Expect to be in the hospital for 3 to 4 hours for a TEE. Since you most likely will be given a mild sedative for this type of echocardiogram, you should plan on having someone drive you home after the test.
A stress echocardiogram involves evaluating your heart with ultrasound before and after exercising on a treadmill. After a "resting" electrocardiogram (ECG) and echocardiogram are obtained, you will be asked to exercise on a treadmill to elevate the rate at which your heart beats. At your peak heart rate, a technician will obtain another ECG and an echocardiogram.
If you are unable to exercise on a treadmill, you may have a non-exercise stress echo that uses medications to enhance the rate and strength of your heart beat (pharmacologic echo). In this test, you receive the drug through an intravenous (IV) catheter inserted in your arm at the start of the procedure. This drug makes your heart react similar to the way it would if you were exercising. A resting ECG and echocardiogram are obtained just like with a stress echo. After the drug has had time to work, a technician will obtain another ECG and an echocardiogram.
Last Updated: 6/10/2010