Echocardiography is a non-invasive and advanced method for meticulous examination of the cardiovascular system. Due to its non-invasive nature, low cost, high precision in investigating the function of the heart and valves, and short time of administering tests and obtaining results, it is generally used in cardiovascular clinics and offices.
Echocardiography is performed using an echocardiography machine. The mechanism of imaging and examination in echocardiography resembles high-frequency sound wave ultrasound. Contrary to popular belief, no radiation is utilized in this method and the patient or the infant (in pregnant mothers) is not exposed to any risk.
Echocardiography is performed in several ways, each for a distinct purpose
The most common and the most available type is the transthoracic echocardiography. In this method, the patient lies on her side and a small amount of gel is rubbed on the chest. After the transducer and echo probe are placed on the chest by the cardiologist, the valve and heart structure, heart function and damages caused by accidents and strokes, as well as the thickness of the heart wall are examined.
Stress echocardiography is another type of echocardiography used to check the artery stenosis. During this procedure, the patient runs on a treadmill similar to an exercise test. If unable to run, the patient will receive cardiostimulatory drugs intravenously and after a few minutes, the transthoracic echocardiography will be conducted
The evidence of artery stenosis would appear on the echocardiography. The precision of this method, similar to a nuclear heart scan is fairly high, except that no nuclear or harmful substances are injected in the patient.
It is another method of echocardiography used to examine the structure and function of the valves as well as the cavities of the heart.
This technique is employed when the specialist desires to examine the valve structure in detail.
In this method, similar to gastrointestinal endoscopy, after throat anesthesia, a flexible and small probe is inserted into the esophagus and the heart structure is thoroughly examined.
The main advantage of echocardiography is its non-invasive nature, meaning that the patient is not exposed to any hazardous and harmful radiation. Also, it is relatively fast and the result is immediately delivered to the patient or requesting physician.
In many diseases, the heart as a vital organ may undergo changes and damage, which may go undetected by the ECG due to its low accuracy. Diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and bronchitis, disease, inflammatory tumors, cancers, etc. may inflict damage on the structure of the heart, but can be prevented by echocardiography and timely diagnosis.
A brief description of information provided by echocardiography report is as follows:
Blood pressure disorders, valvular dysfunction, including aortic valve stenosis and valvular heart disease, advanced lung disease, etc. can lead to abnormal enlargement or thickening of the walls and size of the heart cavities by applying pressure on the muscles and cavities of the heart.
After measuring the heart rate and the volume and size of the cavities in echocardiography, we can obtain an index known as the ejection fraction (EF) or the pumping power of the heart by a complex formula.
In cases of valvular disorders or heart attacks, parts of the heart wall grow weak and the index is reduced, which is known as heart failure. The specialist can diagnosis this disorder by echocardiography.
Echocardiography helps the doctor ensure that the patient’s heart valves open adequately to let enough blood reach the heart and close adequately to halt the flow of blood.
Echocardiography can unravel problems with heart cavities, coronary artery abnormalities, and complex congenital heart defects.
In general, to assess the cause of shortness of breath and chest pain, along with ECG and examination, echocardiography is recommended as a very accurate and accessible non-invasive diagnostic test in the first step.
No special preparation is required before the heart echo. If you have been prescribed a transesophageal echocardiography, it is best to avoid eating and drinking for 3 hours prior to the echo. In other cases, your physician may stop some of your medications.
Most people can resume their daily activities after an echocardiogram.
If the echocardiogram is normal, as decided by your physician, the examination may end at this point without further testing,
If the results are suspicious of a heart problem, your cardiologist may recommend further tests.