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Exploring the Echo of Your Heart

What is an echocardiogram?

To explore your heart, your primary care physician or cardiologist may send you for an echocardiogram (echo or ECG) — a painless, noninvasive test that uses sound waves to create detailed images of your heart. These images show how well your heart’s muscles, valves and chambers are working.

Why would you need an echo?

Your primary care physician or a cardiologist may recommend an echo if you have any of the signs or symptoms of heart issues or heart failure. These include shortness of breath and swelling in the legs, which are possible signs of heart failure.

An echo can help your cardiologist determine:

  • If you have abnormal heart sounds such as a heart murmur that need to be addressed
  • If your heart is enlarged, which is important since an enlarged heart might be the result of high blood pressure, leaky valves or heart failure
  • If your heart muscles are weak or not pumping well
  • If you have problems with your heart’s structure
  • If you have blood clots or tumors affecting your heart

What are the different types of ECGs?

  • A stress echo is performed as part of a stress test. During this test, you exercise or take medicine to make your heart work hard and beat fast, while a technician uses echo to capture pictures of your heart. You will be closely monitored during this test for any potential issues. You usually can go back to normal activities immediately afterwards.
  • A transthoracic echo is the most common type of echo test. It is painless and noninvasive, requiring only a transducer to be placed on your chest to send sound waves, or ultrasound, through your chest wall to your heart. As these waves bounce off your heart’s structures, a computer converts them into pictures.
  • A transesophageal echo, or TEE, utilizes a flexible tube that is inserted down your throat and into your esophagus to get closer to your heart for more detailed pictures of your aorta and parts of your heart. You will be given medicine to help you relax during this test and your throat might be sore for a few hours afterwards. You will not be allowed to drive for a short time afterwards and may need transportation home.
  • A three-dimensional (3D) echo is very similar to a TEE in how it is performed, but it provides 3D images of your heart.

What happens after an echocardiogram?

Following an echo test, which generally takes only 20 to 30 minutes to perform, a cardiologist or technician who is certified in echocardiography will read your results and provide your primary care physician or cardiologist with the results, which they will share with you.

Depending on what is found, if your doctor is concerned about your results, you may be referred by a primary care physician to a cardiologist, who may order more tests, or your cardiologist will work with you to develop a treatment plan to correct the problem or improve your heart health.

To learn more about the cardiology tests and services offered by Tanner Heart Care, visit TannerHeartCare.org.

Heart Care, Tanner Medical Group

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