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Echocardiogram

Definition

An echocardiogram is a test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the heart. The picture is more detailed than a standard x-ray image. An echocardiogram does not expose you to radiation.

Alternative Names

Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE); Echocardiogram - transthoracic; Doppler ultrasound of the heart; Surface echo

How the Test is Performed

TRANSTHORACIC ECHOCARDIOGRAM (TTE)

TTE is the type of echocardiogram that most people will have.

An echocardiogram allows doctors to see the heart beating. It also shows the heart valves and other structures.

In some cases, your lungs, ribs, or body tissue may prevent the sound waves and echoes from providing a clear picture of heart function. If this is a problem, the sonographer may inject a small amount of liquid (contrast) through an IV to better see the inside of the heart.

Rarely, more invasive testing using special echocardiography probes may be needed.

TRANSESOPHAGEAL ECHOCARDIOGRAM (TEE)

The back of your throat is numbed and a scope is inserted down your throat.

On the end of the scope is a device that sends out sound waves. A heart doctor with special training will guide the scope down the esophagus. This method is used to get a clearer echocardiogram of your heart.

How to Prepare for the Test

No special steps are needed before a TTE test. If you are having a TEE, will not be able to eat or drink for several hours before the test.

How the Test will Feel

Why the Test is Performed

This test is done to evaluate the valves and chambers of the heart from the outside of your body. The echocardiogram can help detect:

Your health care provider may recommend a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) if:

Normal Results

A normal echocardiogram reveals normal heart valves and chambers and normal heart wall movement.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal echocardiogram can mean many things. Some abnormalities are very minor and do not pose major risks. Other abnormalities are signs of serious heart disease. You will need more tests by a specialist in this case. It is very important to talk about the results of your echocardiogram with your health care provider.

Risks

There are no known risks from an external transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) test.

There is some risk associated with the transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) test. Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) is an invasive procedure. Talk with your health care provider about risks associated with this test.

Considerations

Abnormal results may indicate:

This test is used to evaluate and monitor many different heart conditions.

References

Connolly HM, Oh JK. Echocardiography. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 15.



Review Date: 5/1/2013
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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