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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Disease and the Echocardiogram

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An echocardiogram is a test that uses ultrasound to evaluate your heart muscle and heart valves.

Recommended Related to Heart Disease

Thriving After 2 Heart Attacks

I had my first heart attack 26 years ago, when I was 52. I was very active then, sometimes jogging and often walking long distances. But I was also on the congressional staff in Washington, and the day leading up to the attack was even more hectic than usual. My boss was introducing major legislation, and I had crafted an important floor speech. I didn’t have time for regular meals and ate a huge cheeseburger for dinner, then smoked three or four cigarettes. It happened about 3 in the morning...

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Why Do I Need an Echocardiogram?

Your doctor may perform an echocardiogram to:

  • Assess the overall function of your heart
  • Determine the presence of many types of heart disease
  • Follow the progress of heart valve disease over time
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of medical or surgical treatments

What Are the Types of Echocardiograms?

There are several types of echocardiograms. Your doctor will help determine which is best for you.

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram: This is the standard echocardiogram. It is a painless test similar to X-ray, but without the radiation. The procedure uses the same technology used to evaluate a baby's health before birth. A hand-held device called a transducer is placed on the chest and transmits high frequency sound waves (ultrasound). These sound waves bounce off the heart structures, producing images and sounds that can be used by the doctor to detect heart damage and disease.
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): This test requires that the transducer be inserted down the throat into the esophagus (the swallowing tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). Because the esophagus is located close to the heart, clear images of the heart structures can be obtained without the interference of the lungs and chest.
  • Stress echocardiogram: This is an echocardiogram that is performed while the person exercises on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. This test can be used to visualize the motion of the heart's walls and pumping action when the heart is stressed. It may reveal a lack of blood flow that isn't always apparent on other heart tests. The echocardiogram is performed just prior and just after the exercise.
  • Dobutamine stress echocardiogram: This is another form of stress echocardiogram. However, instead of exercising to stress the heart, the stress is obtained by giving a drug that stimulates the heart and makes it "think" it is exercising. The test is used to evaluate your heart and valve function when you are unable to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike. It is also used to determine how well your heart tolerates activity and your likelihood of having coronary artery disease (blocked arteries), and evaluates the effectiveness of your cardiac treatment plan.
  • Intravascular ultrasound: This is an ultrasound performed during cardiac catheterization. During this procedure, the transducer is threaded into the heart blood vessels via a catheter in the groin. It is often used to provide detailed information about the atherosclerosis (blockage) inside the blood vessels.
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