Understanding Echocardiography

If a healthcare provider needs in-depth information about a patient’s heart, he or she may order a procedure called echocardiography, also known as cardiac ultrasonography.

Echocardiography is a safe and non-invasive test in which the echoes of sound waves bouncing off the heart provide information about the heart’s position, size, structures and patterns of movement, including its pumping function. The echoes bounce off the heart and create patterns which are amplified as three-dimensional images on a television-like screen. At the same time, echo findings are also recorded on moving graph paper. Together, these images yield far more information about the heart than conventional x-rays or fluoroscope.

Echocardiography is used in the diagnosis of various heart conditions, including the following:

  • damage to the heart from a heart attack,
  • narrowing of an aorta,
  • fluid in the sac surrounding the heart,
  • heart valve disorders,
  • diseases of the heart muscle,
  • and cardiac tumors.

The test is usually performed on an outpatient basis in the sound department of a hospital. In a darkened room a cardiologist, radiologist or trained technician places a pencil-like wand called a transducer on the patient’s chest. As the high-speed sound waves transmitted by the transducer encounter solid tissue in the body, they are reflected back onto the sonogram screen as patterns that accurately reflect the structure and activity of the heart. Test results are referred to the patient’s healthcare provider for interpretation.

If you’ve been advised to have an echocardiogram, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider to explain the procedure. Talking about it can help you understand what the test will show and how the healthcare provider will use the results to develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

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