Echocardiogram

Echocardiogram (Echo) is an imaging modality, performed for suspected problems with the valves or chambers of the heart or if heart problems are the cause of symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain.

A technician (Sonographer or Cardiologist) spreads gel on your chest and then presses a device known as a transducer firmly against your skin (painless), aiming an ultrasound beam through your chest to your heart. The transducer records the sound wave echoes from your heart. A computer converts the echoes into moving images on a monitor.

Echocardiogram Westmead | Dr Moazzeni
  • This is an example of an echocardiogram picture (Loop). Here we can see al four chambers of the heart including left and right ventricles and atria.

There are many indications (why one would need echo) to perform Echocardiogram, including:

  • Look for the cause of abnormal heart sounds (murmurs), an enlarged heart, unexplained chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats or swelling of the legs which could be due to Heart Failure. Some heart murmurs are harmless and the definite way to ascertain that is by echocardiogram
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) by checking the thickness and movement of the heart wall.
  • Look at the heart valves (native or artificial) and their function. It can show either stenosis (incomplete opening of the valve) or Regurgitation (leaking of the valve due to valve not closing tightly)
  • Measure the size and shape of the heart’s chambers.
  • Check the ability of your heart chambers to pump blood (cardiac function). During an echocardiogram, your doctor can calculate how much blood your heart is pumping during each heartbeat (ejection fraction). Ejection fraction is usually low in heart failure.
  • Detect a disease that affects the heart muscle and the way it pumps, such as cardiomyopathy.
  • Look for blood clots and tumors inside the heart. This is especially important if someone has suffered stroke or TIA (mini-stroke)
  • Look for congenital heart defects or to check the effectiveness of previous surgery to repair a congenital heart defect.
  • Check how well your heart works after a heart attack.
  • Identify the specific cause of heart failure.
  • Look for a collection of fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion ).
  • Look for a thickening of the lining (pericardium) around the heart.

Do I need to repeat this test every year?

It depends why the test was done originally and what were the findings. If the initial echocardiogram was normal, there is no need to repeat the test, unless there are new complaints. 
 
 General rule is that: If you don’t have any symptoms (complaints), rarely any testing is required.

 

I was told that I have a “valve” disease and need to do Echo (echocardiogram), every 6 months.

Unless the valve disease is severe or it has affected the heart function, echocardiogram is not required that frequent. As an example, Aortic Valve Stenosis (AS) should be followed on a yearly basis if the stenosis is severe, otherwise 3-5 years is the rule (for moderate or mild disease). Other valve pathologies usually follow the same rule. Having said that, this is a very rough guide and every patient should be assessed on their own merits.