If you’ve relayed concerns about your heart to your doctor, they may have recommended an echocardiogram. Echocardiograms are quick and effective tests, but what is an echocardiogram really?
If you’re feeling nervous about the procedure, we want to put your mind at ease with this quick echocardiogram guide. Keep reading to learn everything that you need to know before you start looking for an “echocardiogram near me.”
The Basics: What Is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram (sometimes simply referred to as an “echo”) is a test that uses sound waves to view and produce images of your heart. The cardiologist uses the echocardiogram to see how your heart beats and pumps blood.
Echocardiograms are non-invasive and (mostly) painless. They are almost free of risks and they take only a few minutes to complete.
Why Would Someone Do an Echocardiogram?
So why would someone get an echocardiogram?
Most of the time, someone gets an echocardiogram through a doctor’s referral to a cardiologist. It is uncommon for someone to seek out a cardiologist for an echocardiogram on their own.
If a doctor recommends an echocardiogram, it’s because they suspect a problem with your heart. This is common for patients who have symptoms such as shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, pounding heartbeats, and fainting.
Doctors will be able to see stiffening, damaged cardiac tissue, unusual heart size, unusual heart rhythms, and more.
Doctors can also use echocardiograms to detect fetal heart problems.
The Basic Echocardiogram Procedure
So what happens when someone is going through an echocardiogram?
For most echocardiograms (we’ll discuss echocardiogram varieties later on), the procedure is simple. It should take 40 minutes or less, and it will be painless.
The doctor will have you undress from the waist up. They’ll attach sticky electrodes to your body to conduct and detect the electrical currents in your heart. This should not be uncomfortable.
The doctor will use a device called a “transducer” to send and receive sound waves through your body. This may seem scary, but you won’t feel anything aside from the sensation of the transducer moving over your body.
The transducer will have a gel on it. This will make it easier to detect sound waves. The gel may be cold or uncomfortable, but this is normal.
Most of the time, the doctor will focus the transducer on and around your chest. They may ask you to turn onto your side to get a better view of your heart. They may ask you to adjust your breathing.
When the test is over, the doctor will give you some wet wipes to remove the gel from your body. You’ll be ready to go home to await your results.
Preparing For The Procedure
Depending on the type of echocardiogram that you’re getting, preparation will be different. Make sure to ask your doctor about anything that you need to do (or not do) in order to prepare yourself. They will be able to give you helpful echocardiogram advice.
Sometimes, the doctor will ask you not to eat or drink for several hours before the procedure. This is common if you’re getting a transesophageal echocardiogram.
If you take medication for your heart, the doctor may ask you to stop if you’re able to. If you have concerns about this, be sure to discuss them with your doctor ahead of time.
It’s helpful to avoid caffeine or any other stimulants before the procedure so the doctor can get an accurate result.
For most echocardiograms, you will be able to resume your normal activities as soon as the test is over. Talk to your doctor about whether or not your specific test will require you to have someone nearby to drive you home.
Common Types of Echocardiograms
The most basic type of echocardiogram is a transthoracic echocardiogram. It uses the same technology that doctors use to check fetal health during pregnancy.
It uses Doppler signals to show the blood moving through your heart.
Transesophageal echocardiograms are more uncomfortable. During this test, the doctor needs to put the transducer down your throat. This allows it to get a clearer picture of your heart.
Because this test is uncomfortable, you’ll receive both numbing medication and a sedative (unlike with a standard echocardiogram). This stops you from gagging or coughing while the transducer is in place.
You shouldn’t eat or drink before or directly after this procedure.
While most echocardiograms happen while you’re sitting or laying down, a stress echocardiogram is helpful if you only feel symptoms while you’re exercising or moving around.
During this test, the doctor will take your vitals and place electrodes while you’re at rest. Then, they’ll have you use a cycling machine or a treadmill to get your heart rate up. You’ll have to exercise until you’re exhausted.
After the doctor does a post-exercise scan, they’ll have you do slow exercise until you’re ready to leave.
Echocardiogram Reads and Results
After the test, someone who’s experienced in echocardiogram interpretations will analyze the results to see if there are any problems or abnormalities. If there’s anything concerning in the results, they may recommend further testing.
Concerning results include (among others):
- Changes in heart size
- Weak heart muscles
- Heart defects
- Blood clots
- Valve problems
The technician will send these results to your doctor so you can proceed with treatment or more tests.
Echocardiograms: Do You Need One?
If your doctor has told you that you need an echocardiogram, this echocardiogram guide should prepare you.
So what is an echocardiogram? Remember, echocardiograms are safe and non-invasive procedures. They take less than an hour to complete, and they give clear results.
If you’re worried about your heart health, an echocardiogram is an effective test that may be able to give you the answers that you need.
In 2021, medical technology has come a long way. At Specialist Direct, our telecardiology professionals know how to read and interpret electrocardiogram results accurately. Contact us for more information or for a consult today.