All About Cardiac Ultrasound
When a physician notes signs of a heart problem, the recommendation is likely to be undergoing a cardiac ultrasound. This procedure also called an echocardiogram, lets physicians see the heart while it is beating and as it pumps blood. The detailed images it creates allow doctors to identify or rule out heart disease.
What is a Cardiac Ultrasound?
An echocardiogram is a very common test. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explains that it utilizes sound waves to generate moving pictures of the heart that depict its size and shape. They also reveal how well its valves and chambers function and identify parts of heart muscle that do not contract well due to insufficient blood flow or a prior heart attack.
This test can detect potential blood clots within the heart, a buildup of pericardial fluid, and issues with the aorta. It is also useful for identifying cardiac disorders in children, even in infancy.
Physicians refer patients for one of several types of echocardiograms, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- A transthoracic echo is the traditional echocardiogram. These noninvasive procedure records sound waves echoing from the heart and translates them into moving images.
- A stress echo creates ultrasound images before and immediately after physical exercise or after taking medication that causes the heart to pump as it would during exertion.
- A transesophageal echo is useful when it is difficult to get a clear image of the heart with a standard echo.
- A Doppler echo uses changes in the pitch of sound waves to evaluate blood flow in the heart. This technology is often part of a transthoracic or a transesophageal echocardiogram.
What to Expect
Cardiac ultrasounds are outpatient procedures. Most require no special patient preparation prior to the appointment. However, a transesophageal echo requires no eating or drinking for at least eight hours prior to the exam. The staff will inform the patient of any preparation required for a stress echo.
Patients undergoing a transesophageal procedure will need a ride home afterward due to the probability of sedation. Those scheduled to walk on a treadmill during a stress echo will want to wear comfortable footwear.
Once a patient has changed into a gown and is on the exam table, an ultrasound technician will affix electrodes to his or her body. For better viewing of the monitor used in the test, the staff will dim the lights in the room. A special gel applied to the chest helps conduct sound waves and eliminates air between the wand that emits and receives sound waves and the patient’s skin.
As the wand moves across the body, sound waves create heart images. They appear on a monitor and are stored for physician review.
Cardiac ultrasounds typically take an hour or less. Most patients are able to return to their normal daily routine as soon as the procedure is finished.
Call Tri-City Cardiology to make an appointment. We have a team of 22 board-certified cardiologists who provide the people of the Phoenix Metro area with the best cardiology care.