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An echocardiogram creates an image of your heart's valves and chambers by emitting high frequency sound waves and receiving the echoes as they bounce off internal structures. An echocardiogram is used to:

  • Evaluate your heart's overall function.
  • Check for indications of heart disease or heart failure.
  • Follow the progress of a heart condition over time.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of medication or surgical treatment.

Transthoracic echocardiogram

This is the standard echocardiogram, during which an image of the heart is created by passing a wand, called a transducer, along the outside of your chest. This procedure is non-invasive and painless.

Patient preparation: There is no specific preparation for this test. Eat, drink, and take all medications as you normally would.

What to expect: The technician, or sonographer, will use a small amount of water-based gel that allows the transducer to glide smoothly on the surface of your chest. This non-irritating gel creates a cooling sensation, while the movement of the transducer is accompanied by slight pressure. During most of the exam you will lie on your left side, although the sonographer may ask you to change positions to take pictures of different areas of your heart. The test will take about 40 minutes.

Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)

During this test a small ultrasound transducer is inserted into your esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). Because the esophagus is located right behind the heart, this echocardiogram produces clear pictures without the interference of the lungs and chest.

Patient preparation: Do not eat, drink or take medications six hours prior to your scheduled appointment. Arrange transportation home after your test since you may feel groggy from the sedative.

What to expect: For a TEE, you will receive IV medication that places you under conscious sedation. During conscious sedation you are awake and responsive but will feel little discomfort. Your breathing will not be affected. Because of the sedative, many people do not remember the procedure. A small transducer on a long tube will be passed through your mouth and into your esophagus until it reaches a position close to your heart. From there, the transducer will create a clear image of your heart in motion.

Your vital signs and alertness will be monitored throughout this test. After the TEE is completed, the tube is withdrawn. The entire procedure lasts about 90 minutes.


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