An echocardiogram helps doctors diagnose heart disease by showing how effectively different cardiac structures, such as the heart chambers, blood vessels and valves, are circulating blood, the American Heart Association states. The procedure uses ultrasound technology to release sound waves that produce an echo-like signal when they bounce off structures in and around the heart.
The images generated from an echocardiogram show doctors the heart’s shape, size and thickness, helping them detect abnormal growths or anatomical irregularities, such as holes in the heart chambers, the American Heart Association notes. Doctors can also determine the heart’s pumping strength and locate areas of blood regurgitation or narrowing in the heart valves.
Doctors have three main options for performing an echocardiogram, depending on the type of health problems under evaluation, according to MedicineNet.com. For example, patients may need a stress echocardiogram if they have narrowed arteries or damage to their heart muscle walls. The test requires the patient to perform physical activity or receive a stimulant chemical, so the doctor can compare heart function before and after exercise.
The traditional transthoracic echocardiogram involves using a transducer on the patient’s chest to project sound waves, MedicineNet.com states. The Doppler method targets sound waves at red blood cells to track the rate and direction of blood flow. In a transesophageal procedure, the doctor inserts a probe orally and navigates it to the esophagus to deliver sound waves in closer proximity to the heart.