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Echocardiography


Overview :

Echocardiography creates an image of the heart using ultra-high-frequency sound waves-sound waves that are too high in frequency to be heard by the human ear. The technique is very similar to ultrasound scanning commonly used to visualize the fetus during pregnancy.

An echocardiography examination generally lasts between 15-30 minutes. The patient lies bare-chested on an examination table. A special gel is spread over the chest to help the transducer make good contact and slide smoothly over the skin. The transducer, a small hand-held device at the end of a flexible cable, is placed against the chest. Essentially a modified microphone, the transducer directs ultrasound waves into the chest. Some of the waves get echoed (or reflected) back to the transducer. Since different tissues and blood all reflect ultrasound waves differently, these sound waves can be translated into a meaningful image of the heart, which can be displayed on a monitor or recorded on paper or tape. The patient does not feel the sound waves, and the entire procedure is painless. In fact, there are no known side effects.

Occasionally, variations of the echocardiography test are used. For example, Doppler echocardiography employs a special microphone that allows technicians to measure and analyze the direction and speed of blood flow through blood vessels and heart valves. This makes it especially useful for detecting and evaluating regurgitation through the heart valves. By assessing the speed of blood flow at different locations around an obstruction, it can also help to precisely locate the obstruction.

An exercise echocardiogram is an echocardiogram performed during exercise, when the heart muscle must work harder to supply blood to the body. This allows doctors to detect heart problems that might not be evident when the body is at rest and needs less blood. For patients who are unable to exercise, certain drugs can be used to mimic the effects of exercise by dilating the blood vessels and making the heart beat faster.




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