- Echocardiography is a diagnostic test that uses ultrasound, or high-frequency sound waves, to create images of the heart’s structure and function, to measure the blood pressure inside the heart, and to measure the direction and speed of blood flow.
- With standard echocardiography, sound waves are sent through a hand-held wand or transducer that is placed on the patient’s chest. The device picks up echoes of the sound waves as they bounce off different parts of the heart. These echoes are turned into moving pictures of the heart.
- Physicians use different forms of echocardiography, including transesophageal echocardiography, which uses a probe that is passed down the esophagus instead of being moved over the outside of the chest wall.
Echocardiography is primarily used to detect and assess the following:
- Blocked coronary arteries
- Heart failure or cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart),
- Congenital (present at birth) heart defects,
- Damage from hypertension (high blood pressure),
- Heart attack damage or scarring,
- Pericardial disease (the membrane that surrounds the heart), and
- Function of the heart muscle and valves.
- Transthoracic echocardiography – With this most common echocardiogram, views of the heart are obtained by moving a transducer over the chest wall.
- Echocardiographic stress testing – During this test, an echocardiogram is done both before and after your heart is stressed during exercise. People who cannot exercise are given medications that simulate the effects of exercise on the heart.
- Transesophageal echocardiography - A long, slender, flexible tube is inserted into the mouth, through the esophagus, and into the stomach. Transesophageal echocardiography produces a highly detailed image of the heart because there are no internal structures to obstruct the view, and is used to detect and assess the following:
- Blood clots,
- Congenital abnormalities,
- Disease of the aorta,
- Heart infection, and
- Heart valve malfunctions.
An echocardiogram clearly shows major structures of the heart.