The heart is an organ in motion. Real-time visualization of cardiac performance using echocardiography, which is an ultrasound study of the heart, provides critical information to patients and physicians. Proper cardiac function involves vigorous and coordinated interaction between the chambers and valves, which are accurately evaluated during an echocardiogram. Echocardiography can determine if the size and thickness of the heart are normal, as certain abnormal measurements can immediately lead to specific and critical treatment recommendations. Echocardiography can also identify abnormal pressures within the cardiac chambers that, if not properly treated, can lead to serious health consequences. Repeated studies over time may be useful to monitor the effects of treatment.
A typically echocardiogram performed in the office requires about 30 minutes or less to complete. Echocardiography is noninvasive and does not involve radiation. In some special situations, sterile intravenous solutions may be injected into a vein in order to highlight the cardiac structures.
For patients with concerning symptoms, an echocardiogram may be included as part of an exercise stress test (Exercise Echocardiography). All of our physicians are board certified to interpret resting as well as exercise echocardiographic images.
Standard echocardiography images the heart through the surface of the chest. Under most circumstances, the acquired images are satisfactory. Occasionally, higher resolution imaging of the heart is required without potential interference by the tissues of the chest wall and underlying lungs. Under these circumstances, transesophageal echocardiography may be recommended. This procedure is done at the hospital under light sedation. After the mouth and throat have been anesthetized with an aerosol, the imaging probe is passed into the stomach, which is adjacent to the heart, and allows for very high resolution imaging. Transesophageal imaging is useful for detecting certain birth defects or small blood clots that may be hidden in the heart.