An echocardiogram is a painless and non-invasive test used to look at the heart and blood vessels. It is a type of ultrasound scan, which uses high-frequency sound waves to take detailed images of the moving heart to evaluate its structure and function.
In transthoracic echocardiography, an ultrasound transducer or probe is placed on the chest. This transducer sends sound waves which enter and travel through the chest cavity. When these waves meet the heart and other surrounding organs, it is reflected back. These reflected waves are known as echoes.
The echoes will travel back to the same ultrasound transducer where it is received and converted into images of the moving heart.
Transthoracic echocardiography is very safe, and it is one of the most commonly used tests in cardiology.
A transthoracic echocardiogram can be used to diagnose and monitor different heart conditions. This test can help your doctors decide what the best treatment option is for you.
Your doctor may suggest a transthoracic echocardiogram for the following reasons:
- Determine if there are any problems with your heart, valves, and blood vessels
- Evaluate the function of your heart, valves, and blood vessels
- Examine how blood flows through your heart
- Monitor heart conditions over time
- Determine if you have sustained any permanent heart damage after a heart attack
- Diagnose congenital heart diseases (e.g., hole-in-the heart)
A transthoracic echocardiogram usually takes between 30 to 60 minutes to complete. You will be lying mostly on your left side during the test.
Before the test, the sonographer will record your height, weight, and blood pressure.
You will then be asked to remove any clothing from the waist up.
- The sonographer will place several small, sticky patches on your chest. These patches are connected to an ECG machine that monitors your heart rhythm throughout the test. If you have a hairy chest, some of your hair may need to be shaved off to help the patches stick in place.
- Before images of your heart are taken, the lights of the examination room will be dimmed. This is to ensure that the images obtained can be seen clearly.
- Then, some ultrasound gel will be placed on your chest and upper abdomen. This helps improve the quality of the images by providing an air-free contact for the ultrasound transducer.
- The sonographer will then move the ultrasound transducer around your chest to take images of your heart from different angles. You may be asked to hold your breath for short periods of time while the scanning is taking place as this allows for the best possible images to be taken.
- You may hear loud swooshing sounds coming from the machine during your transthoracic echocardiogram. These sounds allow the sonographer to evaluate how your blood flows with each heartbeat.
- At the end of the test, the ECG patches will be removed. The ultrasound gel will also be wiped away from your chest.
Unless otherwise advised by your doctor, you should be able to go about your usual day-to-day activities after your test.
Transthoracic echocardiography is a very safe procedure and there are no side effects associated with it. However, you may feel some minor discomfort from the ultrasound transducer being held firmly against your chest. The firmness is necessary to take the best quality images of your heart and blood vessels.
To help your transthoracic echocardiogram run as smoothly as possible, it is recommended to do the following:
- Avoid eating or drinking fizzy drinks for about 2 hours before your test
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes
- Dress so that you can easily remove all clothing from the waist up
No, you do not have to stop any medication before your test. Please take all your medication as you normally would.
No, you will not be exposed to any radiation. This is because a transthoracic echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to take the images. As there is no radiation involved, a transthoracic echocardiogram can be performed on adults, pregnant women, children, and babies.
Yes, it is safe for pregnant women to have a transthoracic echocardiogram. In fact, it is very similar to the ultrasound scanning used in pregnancy.
This is because transthoracic echocardiography is a non-invasive test and there is no radiation involved. Therefore, it is safe for both the pregnant woman and the unborn child.
Your cardiologist will need to review the ultrasound images from your transthoracic echocardiogram. You will be able to discuss the results during your next appointment. However, you may be contacted earlier if urgent care is required for your condition.