IAC Patient Information - Echocardiography

The IAC provides the following links and information for a patient looking to have adult or pediatric echocardiography testing done.

What is an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is a diagnostic medical procedure used to examine your heart and potentially diagnose problems. It uses ultrasound, (not radiation) to examine all four chambers of the heart, the heart valves, the great blood vessels entering and leaving the heart, as well as the membrane around the heart. There are many reasons that your physician may request that you have an echocardiography examination. Physicians use echocardiography to look for abnormalities of the structures of the heart including the heart chambers and valves. An echocardiogram may also be used to look for the cause of an abnormal heart sound (a murmur), to check the size of the heart chambers, to check for fluid around the heart, or to inspect the pumping capability of the heart if a patient is short of breath or has complained of certain symptoms during exertion.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. On average, one American dies every 34 seconds of cardiovascular disease – disorders of the heart and blood vessels. The information obtained through echocardiography examinations is extremely helpful to physicians in diagnosing a variety of conditions related to cardiovascular disease.  Echocardiography is essential in detecting heart defects (congenital heart defects) before or after birth. Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect occurring in 1 in 100 people, according to the Adult Congenital Heart Association.  Babies born with a congenital heart defect will require lifelong care, and echocardiograms are used to monitor congenital heart defects throughout the patient’s lifetime. Echocardiography is also utilized in the operating room to guide the surgeon during open heart surgery, or in the cardiac catheterization lab to guide the cardiologist in a minimally invasive heart procedure. However, it is critical that the public realizes there are many facets that contribute to an accurate diagnosis based on echocardiography. These factors include the skill of the sonographer performing the examination, the type of equipment used, the experience, training and knowledge of the interpreting physician, and quality assurance measures. In fact, poor ultrasound examinations often lead to inconvenient, redundant studies, misdiagnosis, and even unnecessary tests or surgery.

Types of Echocardiography Exams

  • Transthoracic Echocardiogram – A transthoracic echocardiogram is a non-invasive ultrasound of the heart performed on the patient’s chest to obtain information on the structure and function of the heart.
  • Stress Echocardiogram –  A stress echocardiogram is a tool used to evaluate heart function by combining an exercise (stress) test with a transthoracic echocardiogram. A transthoracic echocardiogram produces images of the heart both before (sometimes during) and immediately following exercise, while the patient is monitored with an electrocardiogram (ECG) for heart rhythm changes. Images of the heart at rest are compared with images of the heart during and/or after exercise to evaluate how the heart responds to exercise. Patients with physical limitations that cause them to be unable to exercise may be given a pharmacologic stress echocardiogram instead of an exercise stress echocardiogram. A pharmacologic stress echocardiogram will require an IV with introduction of medications that speed up the heart.
  • Transesophageal Echocardiogram – A transesophageal echocardiogram is used to evaluate the function and small detailed structures of the heart and associated vessels. The transesophageal echocardiogram procedure involves passing a tube into the patient’s esophagus, or swallowing a tube. This is typically performed under sedation. This may also be performed in the operating room or a special procedure room to guide heart surgery.
  • Fetal Echocardiogram – A fetal echocardiogram is an ultrasound that looks at the heart and major blood vessels of the fetus. Most commonly, pregnant individuals undergo a fetal echocardiogram to look for congenital heart defects, which are abnormalities of the heart that occur during development. A pregnant individual may also be referred for a fetal echocardiogram if the fetus’s heart rate is abnormal, or because of their own past medical history. A fetal echocardiogram is typically done between 18-22 weeks gestation, or after the full anatomy ultrasound has been performed. A fetal echocardiogram is able to diagnose serious structural abnormalities of the heart. Minor heart defects, abnormalities involving very small structures, and abnormalities in the change from a fetal circulation to newborn circulation can only be detected after birth.


Locate An IAC-Accredited Facility

IAC offers an online tool to assist patients in locating an IAC-accredited facility. When scheduling a test, patients should research the accreditation status of the facility. To find an IAC Echocardiography accredited facility, visit the IAC Accredited Facility Locator and select Echocardiography or Pediatric Echocardiography under Modalities.

Resources for Patients

ASE | See My Heart
A patient information site dedicated to helping patients and the public better understand heart and circulation ultrasound. Brought to you by the Heart and Circulation Ultrasound Experts at the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE). Learn more at www.seemyheart.org.

SDMS | What is Sonography?

What is sonography? Who is qualified to perform your exam? What should you expect during your sonogram? Answers to these questions and more, brought to you by the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS). Learn more at www.sdms.org/resources/what-is-sonography

Want to Learn More About Congenital Heart Defects?

  • Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) – Founded in 1998, the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA)  is an organization begun by and dedicated to supporting individuals and families living with congenital heart disease and advancing the care and treatment available to our community. Learn more at www.achaheart.org.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Living with a Heart Defect: Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are conditions that are present at birth and can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and the way it works. They are the most common type of birth defect. As medical care and treatment have advanced, infants with congenital heart defects are living longer and healthier lives. Many now are living into adulthood. Learn more at www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/heartdefects/index.html.