An Echocardiogram (ECG) is a well-known test performed by primary care physicians and cardiologists to assess a patient’s heart health for both preventive (as in annual physical check-up) and treatment (for cardiovascular disease) purposes.
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound test that evaluates the structures of the heart, as well as the direction of blood flow within it. The ECG technology uses sound waves to produce images of the heart as it beats and pumps blood. These images help to detect and identify heart disease. There are few if any risks related to an ECG examination.
What Information does an ECG Provide?
The heart is a pump, composed of four chambers and four valves that circulates blood throughout the body. To keep the body alive, the heart needs all its structures to be whole and healthy, and for its muscles to act in a coordinated fashion. This keeps the blood flowing in and out of each chamber and in the right direction.
The results of an ECG Test provide vital information that not only gives a true picture of heart health but also points the way to comprehensive treatment plans, maintenance and long-term monitoring.
The Size of the Heart: An abnormal or diseased heart may have enlarged chambers. The walls may be thickened by damaged valves, high blood pressure, hypertension and other cardiovascular (CVD) diseases.
The Strength of the Heart: An ECG gives insight into the heart’s pumping ability and efficiency. The test measures the percentage of blood each filled ventricle pumps out with each heartbeat, (ejection fraction) and the total volume pumped out in one minute (cardiac output). This information is critical as inadequate blood volume can lead to heart failure.
The Health of the Heart Muscle: An ECG illustrates whether the muscles of the entire heart wall are contributing effectively to the pumping activity. Weakened muscles may indicate coronary artery disease or other conditions.
Heart Valve Issues. An ECG indicates the movement of heart valves in tandem with heartbeats; whether they open enough for adequate blood flow and close to prevent blood leakage.
Heart defects: ECG is used to detect damaged heart chambers, abnormal connections with major blood vessels, and complex congenital heart defects. They can be used to monitor fetal heart development during gestation.
Types of Echocardiogram Tests
Different types of ECG tests provide different information.
Transthoracic echocardiogram. This common, widely used ECG test is safe and noninvasive. The sonographer or echocardiographer applies gel and electrodes to the chest. A transducer is pressed firmly on the chest, transmitting an ultrasound beam to the heart. The device records sound waves echoing from the heart, which are converted into moving images on a computer monitor. If necessary, a contrast agent may be injected intravenously to highlight the heart’s structures more clearly.
Transesophageal echocardiogram. If a standard ECG fails to show clear images, or if the heart and valves need to be viewed in more detail, a transesophageal echocardiogram may be recommended. The transducer is inserted via a tube into the throat to obtain detailed images. Mild, relaxing sedation is administered to the throat to ease the process.
Doppler echocardiogram. Sound waves or Doppler signals bouncing off blood moving through heart and blood vessels help measure the speed, pressure and direction of blood flow in the arteries more accurately than traditional ultrasound.
Stress echocardiogram: Ultrasound images of the heart are taken before and after walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. For those unable to exercise, an injection of a medication to make the heart pump as hard as if you were exercising may be administered.
What do I need to do when preparing for an echocardiogram?
There are no special preparations needed for a standard transthoracic echocardiogram. The patient can eat, drink, and take medications as normal.
For a transesophageal echocardiogram the patient will have to fast beforehand to prevent possible vomiting, or aspiration of food into the lungs during the procedure. A mild sedation will be given to help tolerate the procedure. For those who have difficulty swallowing the doctor will have to decide if these tests are viable.
Where sedation is required, patients should be accompanied by someone who can drive them home. Activity should be light until the sedation wears off.
For a stress echocardiogram, the patient needs to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bicycle. Comfortable shoes are recommended.
After the Procedure
Most patients can resume normal daily activities after an echocardiogram.
If the ECG is clear, no further procedure may be required. If the results need further investigation, the patient may be referred to a cardiologist for more tests.
Treatment depends on what’s found during the exam and the patient’s specific symptoms. They may need another echocardiogram later, or other diagnostic tests, such as a cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan or coronary angiogram.
If you would like to find out more information, please request an appointment online today. Intercoastal Medical Group: dedicated to providing quality healthcare to the Sarasota and Manatee County areas.