Echocardiography (ECG) – Capturing Your Heart

EchocardiographyWith the advancement of technology, knowing your heart is not that difficult anymore. Sophisticated scanning and imaging techniques can tell you the shape, size, and condition of your heart in no time at all. Echocardiography is one such imaging technique which gives you a fair idea about how well your heart is functioning. And yes, echocardiography is painless.

What is Echocardiography (ECG)?
Echocardiography (echo = sound + cardio = heart + graphy = study) is a painless medical procedure that creates moving images of the heart with the help of sound waves. Echocardiography helps you to know the shape, size and functioning of the valves and chambers of your heart.

An echocardiography can accurately mark areas of the heart muscle that are not contracting well. The reasons may be poor blood flow, or an injury from a previous heart attack. Doppler Ultrasound, a type of echocardiography, can show how well the blood flows through the chambers and valves of your heart.

Other features of echocardiography (ECG) include –

  • The detection of possible blood clots inside the heart
  • Fluid build-up in the pericardium, the sac around the heart
  • Problems with the aorta, the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the other parts of the body

Different types of Echocardiography (ECG)
There are different types of echocardiography. However, all of them use sound waves to create moving images. Unlike x-ray and some other screening tests, no radiation is involved in this procedure.

Transthoracic Echocardiography

This is the most common form of echocardiogram. It is a noninvasive procedure, which means that no instruments are inserted inside the body to perform the test.

Transthoracic echo involves placing a device called a ‘transducer’ on the chest of the patient. The device sends ultrasound waves through the chest wall, inaudible to human ear. As the sound waves hit the heart and bounce off the structure of the heart, the echo machine converts them and projects the image on a screen.

Stress Echocardiography

Stress echocardiogram is a part of the stress test, performed to see the functioning of the heart under stress. During this test, initially, images of your heart are taken at a resting position. Then using a machine, usually a treadmill, you are required to increase your heart beat, after which another set of images are taken. Finally, both are compared to obtain results.

Stress echocardiography can detected the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD). It is supposed to be performed in the presence of a licensed practitioner, such as a cardiologist and cardio sonographer.

Transesophageal Echocardiography

It may be that your doctor is unable to obtain clear images of your aorta and other parts of the heart from a Transthoracic Echocardiography. In that case, a Transesophageal Echo is performed, wherein the transducer is placed at the end of a tube and passed down your throat into the oesophagus, the passage from your mouth to your stomach. This helps the doctor to obtain images from a location directly behind the heart.

Three-Dimensional Echocardiography

3D Echocardiography (also known as 4D Echocardiography when the image is moving) creates three dimensional images of the heart. This type of echocardiography helps the doctor to take a look at the heart from all sides in real time. This procedure is used to see those type of hearts that are malformed during the time of birth.
What to expect before, during and after an Echocardiography (ECG)
Before: With the exception of transesophageal echocardiography, which requires that you don’t eat or drink anything 8 hours prior to the test, no special preparation is required. You usually are advised to eat and drink normally. During: Echocardiography is a noninvasive and painless procedure, using sound ultrasound waves to take pictures of the heart. The procedure is completed in less than an hour. Some types of echocardiography involves injection of saline or a special dye in your veins, which helps to obtain a more clear picture of your heart.

For most types of echocardiography, your clothes will be removed from waist up. Women are given a gown during the test.

Electrodes, soft sticky patches, will be attached to your chest for an electrocardiogram to determine the electrical activity in your heart.

A gel will be applied on your chest to help the sound waves reach your heart. A wand like device called the transducer is then moved around the chest. The transducer emits ultrasonic waves which are converted into the picture of your heart with the help of a computer. After: You can return to normal activities right after the test. In case of transesophageal echo you will be kept under the observation of a doctor for some time, and your throat might become sore. You are also not allowed to drive after transesophageal echo.
Who should take an Echocardiography (ECG)?
Anyone above the age of 30 should undergo echocardiography as part of a preventive health checkup. Considering the impact of NCDs/ lifestyle diseases and the nature of a heart attack, which often happens without a warning, a timely echocardiography can tell you the status of your heart in great detail.