Echocardiography

An echocardiogram is a fairly common test that allows doctors to use sound waves to see the inside of one’s heart and see how it’s beating and pumping blood. This procedure can help identify various abnormalities in the heart muscle and valves.

A doctor may suggest an echocardiogram if he or she suspects problems with the valves or chambers of the heart or the heart's ability to pump. An echocardiogram can also be used to detect congenital heart defects in unborn babies.

When reading an echocardiogram, the doctor will look for healthy heart valves and chambers, as well as normal heartbeats. Pertinent information relating to your heart health can also be discovered from the echocardiogram, including:

•    An enlarged heart which can be altered by weakened or damaged heart valves, high blood pressure or other diseases. Doctors can use an echocardiogram to evaluate the need for treatment or monitor treatment effectiveness.

•    The heart’s pumping strength. Specific measurements may include the percentage of blood that’s pumped out of a filled ventricle with each heartbeat or the volume of blood pumped by the heart in one minute. If the heart isn’t pumping enough blood, heart failure may be a concern.

•    Damage to the heart muscle. During an echocardiogram, the doctor can determine whether all parts of the heart wall are contributing equally to your heart's pumping activity. If parts are moving weakly, they may have been damaged during a heart attack or be receiving too little oxygen which can be a sign of coronary artery disease or various other conditions.

•    How your heart valves move as your heart beats. Valves need to open wide enough for adequate blood flow and to close fully to prevent blood leakage.

•    Heart defects including problems with the heart chambers, abnormal connections between the heart and major blood vessels, and complex heart defects that are present at birth.

Talk to your doctor if you suspect you may have a condition that could be identified by an echocardiogram.