Echocardiography: seeing inside the heart
March 3, 2014
In my career in cardiology, there is one modality that has grown, changed and developed over the years and is now at the forefront of diagnostic imaging. Echocardiography is the use of sound waves to create moving pictures of your heart.
I became a cardiac sonographer in the 1980s, and there was significant difficulty in getting any images of the heart with ultrasound. Frequency ranges and conduction of ultrasound to produce clarity of images, to diagnose disease and be able to map blood flow was a challenging task.
In our society today we now benefit from a technology at the height of its ability. Echocardiography is used as a tool to help physicians evaluate, diagnose, monitor and treat cardiovascular disease in ways we only could imagine or hope for previously. Lives are no longer lost because of the "unknown." An echocardiogram is also called diagnostic cardiac ultrasound.
• An echo uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart's chambers, valves, walls and the blood vessels (aorta, arteries, veins) attached to your heart.
• A probe called a transducer is passed over your chest. The probe produces sound waves that bounce off your heart and "echo" back to the probe. These waves are changed into pictures viewed on a video monitor.
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Why do people need an echo test?
Your doctor may use an echo test to look at your heart's structure and check how well your heart functions.
The test helps your doctor find out:
• The size and shape of your heart, and the size, thickness and movement of your heart's walls.
• How your heart moves.
• The heart's pumping strength.
• If the heart valves are working correctly.
• If blood is leaking backwards through your heart valves (regurgitation).
• If the heart valves are too narrow (stenosis).
• If there is a tumor or infectious growth around your heart valves.
The test also will help your doctor find out if there are:
• Problems with the outer lining of your heart (the pericardium).
• Problems with the large blood vessels that enter and leave the heart.
• Blood clots in the chambers of your heart.
• Abnormal holes between the chambers of the heart.
At Glenwood Medical, as a part of our Patient Centered Medical Home commitment, we have made great strides to obtain high quality, state-of-the art imaging equipment to assess patients for all aspects of cardiovascular disease. We now have the ability to not only view the heart in mass detail, but minute detail. We can see flow in microscopic vessels through the use of ultrasound.
Our ability to diagnose and treat heart disease is at the forefront of cardiovascular care. Imaging equipment and techniques are a large part of making any diagnostic test sensitive and specific for uncovering cardiovascular disease. We have the ability to assess a heart in a child in its mother's womb. Patients with life-threatening cardiac disease are living and maintaining a high quality of life because of the technology we have in this day and age.
No matter where you go for your diagnostic Imaging, be sure that the facility has not only state-of-the-art equipment but also experienced sonographers and highly trained clinicians who interpret those results. A picture is not only as good as the camera used, but also the photographer's ability to capture and develop that image as well.
I urge you as a patient to participate keenly in your medical care. Learn about cardiovascular disease prevention. Maintain a good connection with your physician for preventative health care, and, if you need it, know "we can see inside your heart" to save your life.
Dolores Snell, PA-C, is the physician assistant who teams with Dr. Susan Inscore at Glenwood Medical Associates. She is a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist, with a background in interventional cardiology and electrophysiology. She is also a registered cardiac sonographer with extensive experience in adult, pediatric and neonatal echocardiography.
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