Did you know that one person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease? Heart disease is the leading cause of death, killing 655,000 Americans per year.
The best way to prevent and catch these kinds of cardiovascular problems is through echocardiography. An echocardiogram can give healthcare providers a lot of information about your heart and its health.
If you have a family history of cardiovascular issues or you believe that you have positive risk factors or symptoms, you should get an echocardiogram to assess your cardiovascular health status. And, if you’re looking to learn more about your health personally, you should understand how to read a digital echocardiogram.
To learn how to, keep reading.
What an Echocardiogram Looks At
If you’re going to read a digital echocardiogram, you need to understand what it is you’re looking at.
An echocardiogram creates a moving picture of the heart by using sound waves. A medical technologist will use a transducer to send high-frequency sound waves through the chest wall to the heart. From there, the signals will transform into electrical impulses.
An echocardiogram looks at all of the parts of your heart, including all four chambers of the heart, as well as each heart valve. Since a digital echocardiogram is a moving picture, it allows physicians to diagnose any moving or still problems with the heart. In other words, it allows physicians to understand how your heart works (or doesn’t work).
Because an echocardiogram can sense all of these details, healthcare providers can also diagnose murmurs, valve problems, and pumping inefficiencies.
Overall, the echocardiogram gives a comprehensive view of the entire heart and how it works.
How to Read a Digital Echocardiogram
Digital echocardiogram readings take a lot of patience and practice. Unless you’re a practicing cardiologist who has read these things a million times, it’s likely that you’re going to struggle a little bit.
To make it easier, you need to break up the reading process into smaller steps:
- Examine broad measurements
- Compare the heart structures to their standard ranges
- Measure the ventricles
- Measure the atria
- Locate and observe the heart valves
If this is your first time reading a digital echocardiogram, it may take a few tries to fully understand what you’re looking at. However, with some practice, you’ll be able to find your landmarks in no time.
1. Examine Broad Measurements
First, you have to consider the broad measurements of the heart that you’re examining. These are known as the intracardiac dimensions, and they show up at the top of digital echocardiogram readings.
Here are the most common measurements that teleradiology looks for in digital echocardiograms:
- Interventricular septum in diastole
- Interventricular septum in systole
- Left ventricular internal diameter in diastole
- Left ventricular internal diameter in systole
- Left ventricular posterior wall in diastole
- Left ventricular posterior wall in systole
Before taking all of these measurements, you should refresh your memory of how the heart works and where each landmark is. Remember, the blood flows in a specific order:
- Superior or inferior vena cava
- Right atrium
- Through the tricuspid valve
- Right ventricle
- Through the pulmonic valve into the lungs
- Left atrium
- Through the mitral valve
- Left ventricle
- Through the aortic valve into the rest of the body
Then, it starts all over again with the blood from the rest of the body entering back into the heart via the inferior or superior vena cava. If you can follow this flow on an echocardiogram, then you’ve reached a critical step in understanding what you’re looking at.
2. Compare the Heart Structures to Their Standard Ranges
Now that you’ve identified all of your landmarks and you’ve been able to follow the blood through the heart, you need to determine whether or not the heart and all of its landmarks are within acceptable ranges. To do so, you need to compare the size of the heart that you’re looking at to the standard heart size formulation.
As you’re considering the heart size, you shouldn’t forget about measuring and comparing all of the individual chambers and valves. You should even be looking at the thickness of the muscle itself, which is best seen around the chambers and in the interventricular septum.
If you do notice that the heart falls outside of the normal ranges, notate these differences. Those measurements can help you make a diagnosis.
3. Measure the Ventricles
You have your landmarks. You have your measurements. Now, it’s time to decide.
Look at the ventricles first. Given your measurements and the standard measurements, determine whether the ventricles are small, normal, or dilated.
To help you compare sizes, you should note that the right ventricle is about two-thirds the size of the left. However, if this isn’t the case, you could be looking at a heart with the condition that causes the right ventricle to swell in size.
4. Measure the Atria
Next, look at the atria and determine whether those are normal or dilated. Be sure to observe the left in comparison to the right.
If the atria are dilated, this could indicate a diastolic dysfunction related to stiffness in the heart muscle.
5. Locate and Observe the Heart Valves
Lastly, you want to look for all of the heart’s valves:
- Mitral valve
- Tricuspid valve
- Aortic valve
- Pulmonic valve
The most common problems in these valves include narrowing (stenosis) and the backflow of blood (regurgitation). Be sure to watch how the blood flows through each valve to determine whether these conditions are present and how severe they are.
Echocardiogram readings take a lot of time to master. If you’re just getting started, it’s likely that it may take you weeks or even months to be able to accurately assess one of these heart ultrasounds.
That’s why we highly recommend our telecardiology services. Our network of board-certified cardiologists can read echocardiograms quickly and correctly. Plus, they can give recommendations based on their findings because they have the experience necessary to care for cardiac patients.
To get started, sign up for a free consult. We can’t wait to get to work!