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Diagnostic Tests in Cardiovascular Diseases

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4. Transthoracic Echocardiogram (TTE)

What is echocardiography?

Echocardiography is a non-invasive diagnostic test that uses high frequency ultrasound in the range of 2.0 to 7.5 Mhz to evaluate the structural, functional and homodynamic status of the cardiovascular system. The ultrasound physical principles used are similar to that used by the bats, dolphins or submarine sonar to locate objects in front of them. In 1954 Edler and Hertz of Sweden were the first to record movements of cardiac structures in humans.

How is it performed?

A transthoracic echocardiogram can be performed in hospital or at the doctor’s office. The procedure will take 30 to 60 minutes to complete. There is no special preparation required prior to the test. You will be asked to lie on an examination table, often on the left side and on the back. During the test, a small microphone-like device called a transducer will be held against your chest. This will be covered with a water-soluble gel that enables the ultrasound generated by the transducer to be transmitted to and received from the body. The transducer will be moved around to different locations on the chest, the upper abdomen and the neck area to obtain different views of the heart and the blood vessels. You may feel very slight pressure from the transducer and some coolness from the gel. While the echocardiogram is being done both the sonographer and you will be able to watch your heart beating on a small monitor. You may note some colors mapped on to the beating heart as well as hearing swishing sounds from the echocardiogram machines which represent the direction and quantity of the blood flow within the heart and the major blood vessels. These sounds are generated by the echocardiogram machines but not the actual sounds from the heart. You will be able to resume your usual daily activities after this test.

What is it used for?

Echocardiogram is most useful in assessing the function of the heart muscle and the heart valves. It is often asked for when abnormal murmurs are detected in patients by doctors and used in patients with ischemic coronary heart disease such as angina or myocardial infarction (heart attacks), and patients with congenital heart diseases. It can also detect tumors, clots or pericardial effusions (fluid collection around the heart). Transthoracic echocardiograms are often repeated over time to allow physicians to follow the progress and treatment of the cardiovascular diseases such as ischemic, valvular and congenital heart diseases and patients with heart failure.