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Echocardiogram: When and Why It’s Used

An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound used to visualize the heart’s structure and function. Your doctor may order an echo to help look for any structural abnormalities, infections, or functional deficits which may contribute to the following cardiovascular symptoms and disease states (*several others not mentioned):

Symptoms: Shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, leg swelling, rapid weight gain, exercise intolerance, fatigue, dizziness, fainting, fast or slow heart rate

Conditions: Heart failure, hypertension, pulmonary edema, hypoxia, endocarditis, pericarditis, myocarditis, ischemic heart disease, congenital heart disease, valvular heart disease, IV drug abuse

An echo can be performed at an outpatient cardiology clinic, imaging center, or inpatient hospital setting. Your doctor may recommend one or more of a few different types of echocardiograms:

Transthoracic Echocardiogram (TTE): The most common type of echo, which is non-invasive and is as painless as having an ultrasound to any other organ

Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE): Generally performed if there is poor visibility upon TTE, a TEE does require a tube inserted into the esophagus for better visibility

Stress Echocardiogram: This type of echo allows for medical providers to see what your heart looks like under stress, such as exercise or exertion. This is particularly useful if your symptoms are worse under exertion. The “stress” component of this echo is added by either having the patient walk on a treadmill under medical supervision, or by injecting specific medication which mimics the stress of exertion upon the heart.

3D Echocardiogram: This type of echo is helpful for cardiovascular monitoring before and/or after heart valve surgery. As the name states, a 3D echo does provide an additional dimension to help accurately diagnose and follow cardiac disease states.

Your echocardiogram results will be interpreted by a cardiologist, and your doctor will use this information to help direct the appropriate plan of care for you.