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An echocardiogram is a sophisticated test, requested by your physician, which uses ultrasound images to examine your heart. The equipment is similar, but far superior, to that which is used by Alaska fishermen looking for a big catch or ultrasound studies doneon pregnant women. It is an invaluable tool in providing your doctor with information about the size of your heart chambers and the pumping function of the heart.
About the Procedure
Harmless sound waves are bounced off the heart and read by a piece of equipment called a transducer. A two-dimensional echocardiogram is capable of displaying a cross-sectional “slice” of the beating heart, including the chambers, valves and the major blood vessels that exit from the left and right ventricles. These images are displayed on a monitor and electronically recorded for review by your physician.
In patients with long standing hypertension or high blood pressure, the echocardiogram can determine the thickness and “stiffness” of the ventricle walls. The heart ventricles can dilate or enlarge as pump function is reduced in patients with heart failure. An echo study can measure the severity of this enlargement and serial studies performed on an annual basis can gauge the response of treatment.
Why You Might Need This Test
Echocardiography is used to diagnose conditions involving the structure or function of the heart. The test enables visualization of the four chambers of the heart, the valves, the blood vessels entering and leaving the heart, and the sac that surrounds the heart. The procedure is most often performed for the following reasons:
- Evaluate a heart murmur
- Diagnose and determine the extent of valve conditions
- Determine the presence of abnormalities in the structure of the heart
- Measure the size and thickness of the heart and its chambers
- Assess motion of the chamber walls and the extent of damage to the heart muscle after a heart attack
- Assess how different parts of the heart are functioning in patients with chronic heart disease
- Determine if fluid is collecting around the heart
- Identify the presence of tumors in the heart
- Assess for and monitor congenital defects
- Evaluate a patient's response to treatment or a corrective procedure
- Evaluate blood flow through the heart
- Assess if the heart or major blood vessels coming and going from the heart have been damaged by a traumatic injury, often done to determine a heart's condition before it is donated for transplant
- Evaluate heart function and diagnose heart and lungs abnormalities in critically ill patients in an intensive care unit
- Evaluate chest pain
- Evaluate for presence of blood clots within heart chambers
For a resting echocardiogram, no special preparation is necessary. You may want to wear a two piece outfit as clothing from the upper body must be removed.
You will be covered by a gown or sheet to keep you comfortable and maintain your privacy. The study takes place while lying on an examination table or a hospital bed. Gel is applied to the chest and the echo transducer is placed on top of it.
The echo technologist then makes recordings from different parts of the chest to obtain several views of the heart. You may be asked to move from your back and to the side. Instructions may also be given for you to breathe slowly or hold your breath. This helps in obtaining higher quality images. The echocardiogram study typically lasts twenty to thirty minutes.
Alaska Regional Hospital uses a state-of-the-art digital system for recording echocardiograms. Your results can be burned to CD at your request. This makes it easy to share your results with consulting physicians, if needed. The images made during the echocardiogram are analyzed and interpreted by a specialist, who will send a report to your doctor. Based on these findings, your doctor will make recommendations for treatment during a follow-up appointment.
Where and when?
Inpatient studies can be done in your room or in our echo lab. Echocardiograms are available at any time for an emergency, and outpatient exams are typically scheduled Monday through Friday, by calling 855-226-9105 (toll free).