The echocardiogram is a diagnostic medical test that allows you to visualize the heart in motion. It provides very useful information to determine different cardiac disorders: wall thickness, pumping force, valve function … It is a study of great value for diagnosing heart diseases , as well as for locating their origin or severity.
What is an echocardiogram?
The echocardiogram is a diagnostic test that is used to comprehensively visualize the structure of the heart muscle and, in this way, to be able to analyze its ability to pump blood. It allows the diagnosis of a wide range of cardiac disorders, both congenital and acquired.
One of the main advantages it offers is that it does not present any type of risk since the echocardiogram is carried out using ultrasound .
The origin of the echocardiogram is located in the twentieth century, so it is a relatively recent test in the field of medicine. The 1980s were especially important as the Doppler technique was developed . Thanks to it, with this test, not only the structure of the heart is observed, but it is also possible to know what is the speed at which the blood circulates inside the heart muscle.
Types of echocardiogram
As we have pointed out, the echocardiogram is a diagnostic test that uses high-frequency ultrasound. There are two types.
As its name suggests, it is done through the chest wall . The procedure is very simple. The technician spreads a gel on the patient’s chest, and then firmly presses the transducer to the skin. This device is responsible for recording the sound wave emitted by the heart, which is reflected on a monitor.
In those cases in which there is an obstacle that does not allow a clear view of the heart muscle, a contrast is applied intravenously.
In this case, the probe is inserted through the esophagus , thus allowing clearer and better quality images of the heart to be obtained. This type of echocardiogram is usually performed when a clear image of the patient’s heart cannot be obtained by transthoracic echocardiography.
A flexible tube is inserted down the throat into the esophagus, which incorporates a transducer at one end. Once it reaches the esophagus, it can obtain detailed images of the heart muscle.
To avoid any type of discomfort to the patient, the throat is numbed and different drugs are administered to promote relaxation.
When diagnosing certain pathologies, it is essential to know the speed and direction of the bloodstream in the heart . Thus, the Doppler technique is widely used in a high percentage of transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiograms that are carried out.
And finally, the stress echocardiogram. A very useful diagnostic test since some heart disorders, especially those that affect the coronary arteries in some way , only occur when a certain physical effort is made.
In this case, the images of the heart muscle are taken before and after carrying out a strenuous activity, such as walking.
Why is an echocardiogram performed?
There are a number of medical conditions and disorders in which your doctor recommends this test.
Valvular heart disease
Valvular heart disease is known as a disorder that affects the heart valves. There can be two types of problems. On the one hand, that the valves do not open sufficiently; This is known as stenosis . And, on the other hand, that these do not close properly; in this case we speak of heart failure .
In both cases, during the echocardiogram, the doctor must assess whether or not there is a heart murmur. It is known as such to that sound emitted during the heartbeat, which resembles that of a hiss or a whisper. The murmur can occur congenitally, the most common situation, or develop throughout life.
Arrhythmia is usually studied and assessed with an electrocardiogram. However, in some cases it is necessary to complement this diagnostic test with the echocardiogram to analyze the mechanical functioning of the arrhythmia .
Arrhythmia is known as a disorder that affects the heart rhythm. Two situations can occur: the heartbeat is too fast (tachycardia) or it is too slow (bradycardia).
Cardiomyopathy encompasses all those disorders of the heart. They are classified into three large groups.
- Hypertrophic: in this case the heart shows a muscle thicker than normal and, therefore, its power is also greater. The main problem is that your relaxation is worse; Furthermore, it has less capacity to store blood.
- Dilated: the heart can store a large amount of blood, but its walls are very thin and show great weakness.
- Restrictive: the heart muscle is stiff, which means that it cannot relax. However, its contraction force is completely normal.
Is called endocarditis the infection of the endocardium, internal coating both heart chambers and valves . Its main cause is that certain microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi, enter the bloodstream and reach the heart, where they adhere to certain areas of the heart.
A disorder that requires urgent medical attention. Otherwise, endocarditis can lead to a number of potentially moral complications.
The pericarditis is a disease characterized by inflammation of the pericardium , the membrane surrounding the heart. The most common recurring symptom is chest pain. In general, patients recover adequately, and in some cases recover without treatment.
How is the echocardiogram performed?
The echocardiogram is a diagnostic test that is performed on an outpatient basis. The duration in the vast majority of cases does not exceed one hour.
Below we explain in detail how this diagnostic test is performed.
Before the procedure
The preparation for this diagnostic test largely depends on the type of echocardiogram to be performed. In the case of a transthoracic type, it is not necessary to carry out any type of special preparation ; the patient should not even go fasting to perform the test.
If it is a transesophageal or stress echocardiogram, it is necessary to go on an empty stomach; In addition, the doctor must know precisely what are the medications that the patient usually takes.
During the procedure
Once the patient goes to the medical center, he is first asked to undress from the waist up. You must then lie down on a stretcher.
Once placed in the correct position, the technician proceeds to place the electrodes at different points of the body both to detect and to conduct the electrical currents of the heart. Then apply a gel on the chest to improve the conduction of sound waves and eliminate the air between the skin and the transducer.
Once the patient is prepared, the technician begins the test itself. To do this, move the transducer from side to side on your chest . The sound waves emitted by the heart create images that are displayed on a monitor in real time, which are recorded for later examination.
In the case of a transesophageal echocardiogram, the patient’s throat is anesthetized to minimize discomfort when the transducer is inserted into the esophagus. The administration of a sedative is also common to make the patient more comfortable during the test.
After the procedure
The echocardiogram is a non-invasive test, so the patient can resume their daily activities immediately after it.
If the patient has undergone a transesophageal echocardiogram, due to the effect of anesthesia, he cannot drive home. In this case, it is best to go to the medical center accompanied.
What values does the echocardiogram measure?
The echocardiogram is a medical test that shows a wide range of values, which are of great importance when diagnosing certain cardiac pathologies.
- Heart muscle size: Some conditions, such as weak or abnormal heart valves, can cause the heart chambers to enlarge.
- Pumping force: One of the main goals of the echocardiogram is to determine how hard the heart is pumping. The measurement is generally displayed in percentage values and reflects the blood pumped from a full ventricle with each heartbeat, or the volume of blood pumped by the heart in one minute.
- Damage to the heart: An echocardiogram can determine if all the parts that make up the heart are working properly in relation to pumping blood.
- Valve abnormalities: This test determines the movement of the heart valves while the heart beats. Thus, if the valves do not open enough to guarantee adequate blood flow, it may indicate an abnormality in the valves.
Risks of the echocardiogram
In general, the risks of an echocardiogram are minimal. It is a very safe non-invasive test. Complications can only occur in the transesophase echocardiogram, and these occur in less than 0.1% of the examinations .
Side effects are given by the tranquilizers administered for the performance of the test. In very rare cases, vessels or tissues can be damaged by the tube sliding down the esophagus. The main risk is in the damage that can be done to the throat or esophagus , leading to infection or bleeding.
Today, the echocardiogram is the diagnostic test most commonly performed to determine various cardiovascular disorders. Thanks to it, the doctor can visualize the different parts of the heart muscle in detail, analyzing their size and structure, assessing the pumping capacity of the heart, examining both the speed and direction of blood flow …
In addition, the diagnostic capacity of the echocardiogram as such is enhanced by the Doppler technique , which provides color images. It is of great help when evaluating congenital heart disease.
Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.