Posted October 2, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 3 min read

An echocardiogram is an ultrasound test that checks the structure and function of your heart. An echo can diagnose a range of conditions including cardiomyopathy and valve disease. There are several types of echo tests, including transthoracic and transesophageal.

What is an Echocardiogram?

  • An echocardiogram (echo) is a graphic outline of your heart’s movement.

  • During an echo test, your healthcare provider uses ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) from a hand-held wand placed on your chest to take pictures of your heart’s valves and chambers.

  • This helps the provider evaluate the pumping action of your heart.

  • Providers often combine echo with Doppler ultrasound and color doppler techniques to evaluate blood flow across your heart’s valves.

  • Echocardiography uses no radiation.

  • This makes an echo different from other tests like X-rays and CT scans that use small amounts of radiation.

Uses of Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram can detect many different types of heart disease. These include:

  • Congenital heart disease, which you’re born with.

  • Cardiomyopathy, which affects your heart muscle.

  • Infective endocarditis, which is an infection in your heart’s chambers or valves.

  • Pericardial disease, which affects the two-layered sac that covers the outer surface of your heart.

  • Valve disease, which affects the doors that connect the chambers of your heart.

What are the different types of Echocardiogram?

There are several types of echocardiogram. Each one offers unique benefits in diagnosing and managing heart disease. They include:

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram.

  • Transesophageal echocardiogram.

  • Exercise stress echocardiogram.

What techniques are used in Echocardiography?

Several techniques can be used to create pictures of your heart. The best technique depends on your specific condition and what your provider needs to see. These techniques include:

  • Two-dimensional (2D) ultrasound - This approach is used most often. It produces 2D images that appear as slices on the computer screen. Traditionally, these slices could be stacked to build a 3D structure.

  • Three-dimensional (3D) ultrasound - Advances in technology have made 3D imaging more efficient and useful. New 3D techniques show different aspects of your heart, including how well it pumps blood, with greater accuracy. Using 3D also allows your sonographer to see parts of your heart from different angles.

  • Doppler ultrasound - This technique shows how fast your blood flows, and also in what direction.

  • Color Doppler ultrasound - This technique also shows your blood flow, but it uses different colors to highlight the different directions of flow.

  • Strain imaging - This approach shows changes in how your heart muscle moves. It can catch early signs of some heart disease.

  • Contrast imaging - Your provider injects a substance called a contrast agent into one of your veins. The substance is visible in the images and can help show details of your heart. Some people experience an allergic reaction to the contrast agent, but reactions are usually mild.

What not to do before an Echocardiogram?

It depends on which type of echo you’re having done. Check with your provider to learn exactly what you should avoid. Things you may need to avoid before your echo include:

  • Eating or drinking.

  • Smoking or using any nicotine products.

  • Drinking coffee or anything with caffeine in it. This includes decaf drinks, which still contain a small amount of caffeine.

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