Echocardiography (ECHO) is a common heart examination method that can detect a number of both anatomical and functional disorders and helps to diagnose many cardiac diseases.
Classic echocardiography is based on ultrasound. The doctor puts the ultrasound probe to the chest and checks the heart sections in different planes. The examination allows to evaluate the direction of blood flow, to check the function of heart valves and to measure the size of the atria and ventricles.
More invasive examination is called transesophageal echocardiography when the probe is inserted into the mouth and through the nasopharynx into the esophagus. This probe can visualize the heart from inside as the heart is located very close to esophageal cavity. This type of echocardiography is more accurate and it is especially used to confirm or rule out the infective endocarditis.
The classic echocardiography does not need any special preparation. The transesophageal echocardiography should be done in fasting patient, i.e. it is necessary not to eat or drink fluids at least 6 hours before the examination. When the patient does not tolerate the procedure (swallowing troubles, gagging), it is possible to administer some tranquilizers to calm the patient down.
The examination gives us plenty information about the anatomical and functional attributes of the heart - the size of cardiac atria and ventricles, the anatomy and function of the heart valves, the contractility and pumping ability of the myocardium, presence of any fluid in pericardium, etc. Echocardiography is essential in diagnostics of heart failure, heart valve diseases, congenital cardiac defects (such as the Tetralogy of Fallot), infective endocarditis, pericarditis with fluid in the pericardium, etc. The ECHO is simply one of the fundamental pillars of diagnostic cardiology.
Obese patients are worse examinable by the classic “transthoracic” echocardiography. The transesophageal ECHO may be uncomfortable for some patients. It is not painful, it but may trigger the gagging reflex.
ECHO of the heart is an effective and accessible examination that gives a lot of valuable information. It is painless and does not expose the patient to harmful radiation.