A device called a transducer is passed over the chest, directing high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) at the heart. The sound waves are reflected back to the transducer and electronically converted into images displayed on a viewing monitor. The images can also be saved on film or video and then examined for abnormalities. Transthoracic echocardiography often includes three different techniques: M-mode, which provides a one-dimensional, vertical view of the heart; two-dimensional, which produces a cross-sectional view of cardiac structures; and color flow Doppler imaging, which gives a picture of blood flow.

Purpose of the Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • To obtain images of the heart by directing high-frequency sound waves from a transducer onto the chest and abdomen
  • To detect and evaluate heart conditions, including heart valve abnormalities, congenital heart defects, cardiomyopathy, atrial tumors, and pericardial effusions (excessive fluid around the heart)
  • To measure the size of the heart’s chambers
  • To assess cardiac function and heart wall motion after a heart attack
  • To evaluate the function of the heart’s pumping chambers and valves and detect abnormal fluid near your heart

Who Performs Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • A doctor, a nurse, or a technician trained in ultrasound

Special Concerns about Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • This test may not produce accurate results in people who are obese or who have thick chests, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or chest wall abnormalities. Transesophageal echocardiography may be a better option for such patients.

Before the Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • Immediately before the test, remove your clothing and jewelry above the waist and change into a hospital gown.

What You Experience during Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • After you lie on an examination table, a water-soluble gel is applied to your chest to allow better transmission of the sound waves.
  • The examiner places the transducer on your chest and applies some pressure while guiding it over specific areas of your chest.
  • You may be repositioned during the procedure and asked to breathe in a certain way.
  • The procedure is painless and usually takes about 45 minutes.

Risks and Complications

  • Ultrasound is painless, noninvasive, and involves no exposure to radiation. There are no associated risks.

After the Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • The examiner removes the gel from your chest, after which you may leave and resume your normal activities.

Results of Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • The doctor will examine the recorded images and other test data for any evidence of a cardiac abnormality.
  • If a definitive diagnosis can be made, appropriate treatment will be started.
  • In some cases, more invasive tests, such as cardiac catheterization, may be needed to further evaluate abnormal results.

Source:

The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Medical Tests

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 25 Jan 2012

Last Modified: 25 Jan 2012