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What is a transthoracic echocardiogram and why am I having it? 

Also called an "Echo", it is a diagnostic test to assess the size, contractility patterns and valvular function of the heart and great vessels. It uses high pitched sound waves that are sent through a hand held device called a transducer. The transducer not only acts as a "sender" but also a "receiver" of sound waves as they bounce back from the heart and are transmitted as moving pictures seen on a video screen.  Another component of the echo is the "Doppler" exam which is much like a doppler radar report from the TV meteorologist tracking the direction and velocity of the moving weather fronts. The echo Doppler measures the direction and velocity of the blood as it flows across the 4 heart valves through the heart. You will hear the "whooshing" sound of the Doppler blood flow at various times during the exam. 

The test may be done to look for the cause of abnormal heart sounds called "murmurs", an enlarged heart, unexplained chest pain, irregular heart beats or shortness of breath. Your doctor might want to see how an artificial heart valve is functioning or how the heart muscle is working after a recent stent procedure. He/she might want to see whether there might be a blood clot or tumor within the heart, a collection of fluid around the heart or possibly a defect that you might have been born with, such as a "hole" in your heart. 

Who performs the test, are they reliable and is it safe? 

A registered or specially trained cardiac ultrasound technician will perform your echo exam. 

SJH Cardiology Associates has a current certificate of compliance by the Intersocietal Commission for the Accreditation of Echocardiography Laboratories. 

Echocardiography is extremely safe, There are no known biological ill effects of diagnostic ultrasound since its inception in the 1960's. 

What do I do in preparation for an ECHO, how long does it take and when can I 
expect to get the results? 

There is no preparation needed for a standard echocardiogram. 

It will take approximately45 minutes to complete. You will need to remove any clothes above the waist. For females, a drape sheet or patient gown will be given to cover your chest. Three small discs called electrodes will be placed on your chest. You will be asked to lie on your left side with your left arm under your pillow or head. A small amount of gel is placed on the transducer head to help trap the sound waves  and send then into the left side of the chest where the heart is located. The transducer sends and receives the sound waves which are then displayed on a video monitor for digital capture and review by the cardiologist. When the test is complete, the gel is wiped off and the electrodes removed. 

If your doctor is present while you are in the office you may be able to get the results before you leave. However, the doctor is not routinely present and the echo images will be reviewed within 48-72 hours. A completed report will be sent to the requesting physician who will discuss the results with you. In the event of a significant unexpected finding, your physician will be notified by the interpreting cardiologist in an expeditious manner.