Echocardiography uses high frequency sound waves, much like sonar, to create a "picture" of the heart in motion. The technique is used to evaluate the heart's size, interior structures, shape and movements. Two different types of echocardiography are available at the Heart Hospital at Saint Francis:
Transthoracic echocardiography involves movement of an electronic transducer over the chest wall to transmit the sound waves through the chest wall to the heart and then to sense and convey the returned "echoes" to the ultrasound monitor. While lying down on a bed or examination table, a jelly-like substance is applied to your skin to improve the transmission of signals. An exercise echocardiogram utilizes the same basic procedure, except that the examination is performed immediately prior to and following an exercise stress test to evaluate the adequacy of circulation to the pumping chambers of the heart.
Transesophageal echocardiography involves use of a mini-transducer fitted into the tip of a special catheter, which is inserted into the esophagus directly behind the heart. You are given an anesthetic spray to numb the back of the throat and a low dose of sedative to improve comfort while the catheter is eased down your esophagus. Images with this technique are clearer than with the transthoracic technique, which can be affected by structures of the chest wall, obesity and lung disease. The technique is often used to help detect damaged heart valves and the function of the atria. It has become especially useful in emergency evaluations of chest trauma when rapid detection of an injury to the heart or one of the "great" vessels (the aorta, pulmonary veins and arteries) is important.