Echocardiography (ultrasound imaging of the heart)
Echocardiography refers to the use of very high frequency sound waves transmitted through tissue to create static and dynamic (moving) images of the heart and surrounding tissues. By “bouncing” sound waves off of tissue and recording the reflected sounds, images can be made of many structures in the body without using radiation. The term echocardiography, coined in the very early days of sound wave imaging of the body, “stuck” with regard to imaging of the heart to this day, though the use of sound waves to study other parts of the body is now universally referred to as ultrasound. Although developed in the 1970’s, the many advances made in this noninvasive technology make it one of the most useful diagnostic tools to obtain immediate and clinically useful information about the heart. Echocardiography can provide a wide variety of information regarding heart function, cardiac valvular anatomy, cardiac chamber sizes and the integrity of the pericardium and great vessels. Aside from images of the heart in motion, measurements of blood flow to and through the heart can give cardiologists a surprising amount of information about the blood flow throughout the rest of the body, and into and through the lungs as well.
The echocardiogram technician will ask you to disrobe from the waist up and to put on an examination gown. You will then lie on a special examination table and the technician will apply an ultrasound probe to the chest in several locations, using a clear “jelly” to enhance ultrasound conduction through the skin. The technician will then begin to obtain images from three or four places on the chest and record these images for the cardiologist to review and interpret after the study is done. There is absolutely no sensation of the ultrasound waves-the only sensation is that of the probe pressed against the skin. You will be able to actually see your heart beating on a screen while the test is being performed!
Occasionally there is a need to use harmless intravenous agents to help clarify the heart images, especially when the images are not of good quality, such as often happens in people with lung disease or are 20% or more over their ideal body weight. This would require starting a small intravenous catheter, to be removed immediately after the study.
The cardiologist will usually review the study within 48-72 hours. Our technicians, however, are highly skilled individuals trained to recognize abnormalities requiring urgent attention and will immediately notify a cardiologist of such a finding or abnormality.