Cardiac Echo or simply Echo is the term used to denote Echocardiography. Echocardiography is a medical imaging technique that involves sonography (analysis of sound) of heart. Doppler ultrasound is used by echocardiography in order to generate 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional images of the heart. In simple terms, echocardiography uses sound waves with an aim to acquire moving images of the heart. This type of scanning does not involve any radiation exposure and the scans or the images generated are more detailed than any plain x-ray image. |
There are different types of echocardiography:
They are transthoracic echo, stress echo, doppler echo and transesophageal echo. Transthoracic echo is one of the most common forms of echo test that are done on patients. By moving the transducer on various locations over the chest and abdomen it helps to obtain the views of the heart. Another form that is stress echo is done before and after the heart is stressed. Either exercise or a medicine is injected that would make the heart beat faster and harder after which echo will be performed. This type of echo is mainly done to determine if there is a decreased blood flow to the heart. In case of transesophageal echo, a probe is inserted through the esophagus instead of moving the transducer on the chest or abdomen from the outside. This technique helps to acquire clearer images of the heart as it is closer to the heart and the sound waves are not obstructed by the chest wall. Echo stress test can also be combined with electrocardiography which helps physicians to diagnose heart conditions accurately.
Echocardiography is mainly suggested to a patient for initial assessment in order to determine a change in the clinical status of the patient and whether depending on the new data generated from the echocardiography the patient care should be modified. When no change is observed in the patient’s clinical status, routine testing is not recommended for the patient.
An interesting addition that was made to traditional ultrasound echo was the use of contrast called as contrast echocardiography or contrast enhanced ultrasound. The contrast used in echocardiography is made up of microtubule with a protein shell and a glass core allowing the micro bubbles in circulation within the cardiovascular system and returns the ultrasound waves leading to generation of highly reflective images. The most commonly used ultrasound contrast approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are Definity and Optison.
To conduct an echocardiography test no special preparation is required for most type of echo tests. Patients need not fast before the test and can take any medication they are on. Only for transesophageal echo the patient is requested not to eat or drink 8 hours prior to testing.
Echocardiography is painless and performing the test will take not more than 1 hour. For the test, a gel will be applied on the chest as it helps the sound waves to reach the heart and once the gel is applied, the transducer will be moved over the chest. This transducer will produce sound waves to the heart and a computer will convert the echos from the sound waves into images of the heart on the screen.
Echocardiography helps in creating the images of the heart that shows the structure and size and the rhythm of the heart. Echo helps in diagnosing heart problems, determining the next stage of treatment, supervise changes or improvement in the functioning of the heart, and identify if there is need for more tests. Echocardiography helps to identify many defects in the heart. This test can detect if the size of the heart is enlarged which may be as a result high blood pressure or heart failure. With the help of this test, it can be determined if the ventricles have become thick which may be due to heart valve disease or congenital heart disease. It can also detect blood clots and any previous heart stroke.
Echocardiography is used in many clinical trials to monitor a patient’s heart condition. In clinical trials echo tests helps to check the safety and efficacy of a drug in different phases. Echo test is also used to confirm the eligibility of a patient to participate in a clinical trial.
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