What is an echocardiogram (echo)?

Image by Patrick J Lynch and C. Carl Jaffe.

An echocardiogram refers to the use of ultrasound to look at the heart.

The two most common forms of echocardiography are:

A transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) is the most common, where a probe onto various parts of the chest to scan the heart. This is often the starting point – it provides a global over view of the heart’s pumping function and assesses the valves for narrowing or leaking. It’s a non-invasive test and takes about 45 minutes. This can be combined with either exercise or medication to stress the heart and check for narrowings in the heart arteries.

A transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE) is all about getting more specific detail on a certain area. It is most commonly performed to a) look for blood clots in the heart (often prior to a cardioversion) or b) to get extreme detail on the valves, particularly if looking for signs of infection (infective endocarditis). The test requires you to be sedated so that the probe can be passed through your throat towards your stomach.

Rarely, certain doctors can perform an intracardiac echocardiogram, using a probe that is inserted through an artery – this is usually done in conjunction with another procedure that you are having, such as a closure of a hole in your heart. This is an uncommon procedure.


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