An echocardiogram uses ultrasound, or sound waves, to provide images of the heart and related structures. This non-invasive test, which uses no radiation, contrast dyes, or invasive techniques, provides valuable information about how the heart is pumping, how blood flows in the heart and blood vessels, how large the heart is and how the valves are working.
Types of Echocardiograms
Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE)
In transthoracic echocardiophy, the ultrasound transducer is moved over different locations on the chest or abdomen to provide different views of the heart.
Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
With transesophageal echocardiography, the transducer is passed down the esophagus (the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach) instead of moving over the chest. This procedure provides clearer pictures of the heart as the transducer is closer and sound waves are not blocked by the lungs.
Both TTE and TEE are used to:
- Detect blood clots or masses inside the heart
- Assess the heart valves
- Assess how artificial valves are working
- Detect holes between the chambers of the heart
- Diagnose a dissection or tear in the lining of the aorta
- Detect infections of the heart valves
The doppler echocardiogram is used to look at how blood flows through the heart chambers, heart valves, and blood vessels. The movement of the blood reflects sound waves to a transducer. The ultrasound computer then measures the direction and speed of the blood flowing through your heart and blood vessels.
Color flow doppler echocardiogram
This enhanced version of the Doppler test uses a computer program to colorize the ultrasound image of the heart. Colorizing the images helps to better illustrate the speed and direction of blood flow. This test is especially valuable for detecting leaking valves or a hole within the heart because the abnormal blood flow patterns show up in contrasting colors.
A stress echo is done before and after the heart is stressed by exercise or by using an intravenous medication to make the heart beat faster, as exercise does. This test is used to determine how much oxygen-rich blood the heart is receiving and is used to diagnose coronary artery disease.