If you're having medical symptoms that indicate a possible heart problem, your doctor will probably order some cardiac tests. One of them could be an echocardiogram. This is often done in combination with a stress test to show how your heart responds to physical exertion; other times, the test is done when you're at rest. Here are some ways this type of cardiac test is done, and what echocardiography can reveal about the condition of your heart.
How An Echocardiogram Is Done
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound test that produces a video image and still images of your heart. The video shows your heart pumping and the valves working, so the doctor gets a look at your heart in action at rest and with exertion. A basic test is done with you at rest. The technician spreads the ultrasound gel over your heart and glides the wand over your skin; this produces images on a monitor. Dye might be injected to get a better image, and if the image still isn't clear enough by performing the test over your skin, another approach may be taken.
When necessary, a small ultrasound transducer is passed through your esophagus to get a closer image of your heart. Your throat will be numb for this procedure to minimize discomfort. If you're having the test along with a stress test, you'll have an echocardiogram at rest first, and then again after you've walked on a treadmill, so the results can be compared.
What Information Is Obtained From The Test
One thing your doctor can check is the function of your heart valves. Echocardiography shows if your valves close fully when they should and if they open wide enough to allow adequate blood flow. The doctor can also calculate the strength of the pumping action of your heart and identify areas that don't work as well as they should due to heart damage or a blood clot. Your doctor also looks at the overall size of your heart to see if it is enlarged or thickened. These results, along with results from other cardiac tests, help your doctor diagnose a cardiac problem you may have so proper treatment can be prescribed.
An echocardiogram is an easy test to have done, and you can go about your usual activities when it's over. The test may be completed at a cardiac clinic or doctor's office as an outpatient. If you're diagnosed with a cardiac condition, your doctor may order additional echocardiogram tests in the future to monitor your condition or to see how well your heart is responding to treatment.