Your doctor may recommend an echocardiogram if you've been experiencing certain cardiac symptoms or if the doctor just wants to monitor your overall heart health. This test uses technology that is able to detect heart abnormalities more precisely and produce more accurate results. Your doctor can also use the results to come up with a better care plan if any heart problems require further evaluation and treatment.
How an Echocardiogram is Performed
A transducer, which is a handheld device that a technician uses, will be placed against your chest to send sound waves that echo off the heart and its supporting structures. This echoing effect is able to generate detailed images of the heart's different structures so that a health care provider can get a more comprehensive view. An echocardiogram is a painless test that only takes a few minutes to complete.
Heart Valve Health
One of the main reasons why an echocardiogram is performed is so that a doctor can check the overall status of the heart's valves and make sure that each valve is functioning normally. The valves can be viewed with echocardiogram imagery to make sure that each one opens properly and that no blood is leaking back through the valve and into the heart (regurgitation). Echocardiogram testing can also show if there are any deformities of the valves and if the openings are wide enough to allow enough blood to move through them.
Blood Clot Diagnosis
Blood clots in the heart may be asymptomatic but could still cause a heart attack and be fatal if they aren't detected and treated in a timely manner. Antiplatelet medication or other blood-thinning medicine may be prescribed to try to dissolve any clots in the heart that are discovered with echocardiogram testing.
Abnormal Heart Rhythm (Arrhythmia) Detection
If your heart beats at a rate that's too fast or too slow or is beating sporadically, you'll likely be diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia that can be detected with an echocardiogram. Medication or other treatments may be used to try to correct these arrhythmias to decrease your chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Echocardiogram testing is often useful for detecting specific types of arrhythmias, such as:
- Atrial fibrillation (AFib)
- Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome
The Presence of Cardiovascular Disease
An echocardiogram is one of the most useful tools for identifying cardiovascular disease. If deposits that can restrict blood flow have built up along the artery walls (atherosclerosis), an echocardiogram may show this condition even before symptoms are present. Echocardiogram testing can also reveal heart failure and other conditions that are categorized as cardiovascular diseases.
An echocardiogram can even be a useful test for detecting certain tumors that can form inside the heart. These tumors may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Other tests, such as a CT scan or MRI, may also be conducted to confirm a diagnosis.
In addition to the aforementioned conditions, echocardiogram testing can detect other abnormalities of the heart that can often be resolved or at least monitored closer to try to prevent serious cardiac events. Your doctor can tell you more about echocardiogram testing and schedule a test if you're a suitable candidate.