Echocardiogram: Types and Indications

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There are several methods to assess the function of your heart like Echocardiogram and exercise stress test. These methods use different modalities to evaluate the functioning of the heart in different conditions. Echocardiogram, also known as an echo for short is used to visualize the chambers in your heart and also assess the blood flow through them.


Trans Thoracic Echocardiography: the sonographer will apply the gel to your chest after which a probe is placed on your chest. This probe produces ultrasonic sound waves which help in visualization of the chambers of the heart, when used in the Doppler mode this probe can also show the direction of blood flow in the heart.

Trans Esophageal Echocardiography: an ultrasound producing probe is introduced into your food pipe via a tube in your mouth. Using the probe in the esophagus provides better visualization of the valves. When used in the Doppler mode the pressure and direction of flow of blood can be calculated.

Stress Echocardiography: to assess the function of your heart transthoracic echocardiography is done before and after a round of moderate exercise.

Where is it Done?

Trans Thoracic Echocardiogram: It is usually done as an outpatient in the office or hospital. It takes about an hour and there is no preparation required for this test. You can take all your regular medicines before this test. You can drive home yourself after the test.

Trans Esophageal Echocardiogram: It is usually done in the hospital. The procedure takes about an hour but the recovery time can take up to few hours before you are able to leave the hospital. You will have to be an empty stomach for at least 4-6 hours before the test. Your doctor will decide if any medications need to be stopped or not. You will need a driver to take you home after the test is done.

Indications for Echocardiogram

Your doctor may order for an echo after you experience chest pain, leg swelling, palpitations, dizziness or shortness of breath to check for the functioning of the valves of the heart and the chambers.

Results of Echocardiogram

After assessing the results of the echocardiogram, your doctor will be able to comment on:

  • Heart Valves: echo will tell your doctor is the valves in your heart are functioning normally or not. Regurgitation or stenosis can be diagnosed by this procedure. Vegetations due to infective endocarditis may sometimes be visible too.
  • Defect in the septa in the heart: the sonographer will be able to see a defect in the septum separating the two ventricles or the atria. Knowing the size and location of the defect will help your doctor decide the course of treatment.
  • Size of the Heart: hypertension and a valve disease may cause an increase in the size of the heart.
  • Pumping capacity of your heart: this is done by measuring the fraction of blood the ventricles eject every cycle (ejection fraction) and the amount of blood the ventricles pump every minute (cardiac output). If the values are below normal your doctor might advise you to start the medication to support the functioning of your heart.