Whether born with a congenital heart defect, or a problem has developed over time, or with age, echocardiography can be used for initial diagnosis and ongoing monitoring of many chronic heart conditions.

Echoes

The use of echocardiography, an ultrasound of the heart and circulatory system which offers live moving images, is widespread and preferred by many doctors and patients because it provides robust clinical information yet is also noninvasive, accessible, versatile, cost-effective and involves no exposure to radiation.

Point of care ultrasound, using miniaturized devices, can allow a focused look at heart function and valves in the doctor’s office as an extension of the physical examination.

Echoes for treatments

Advances in cardiovascular imaging now allow for minimally invasive treatment options. Catheter-based procedures for heart valves, which are guided by 3D echocardiography, are being used extensively to treat conditions that used to require open heart surgery. People who just a few years ago were considered too frail for surgery are now candidates for interventional procedures that can extend their lives.

An echocardiogram can identify a blood clot in the heart and early treatment can prevent it from traveling to the brain causing a stroke.

Recently it was discovered that many patients undergoing chemotherapy were at risk of heart damage. Because echocardiography allows a comprehensive evaluation of heart valves, the aorta, and the membrane around the heart, echo is now recommended for patients before, during, and after chemotherapy. This allows physicians to monitor changes and make adjustments in treatment if necessary. This has led to the new field, cardio-oncology, which helps manage these patients.

Echoes for strokes

Echocardiography is also a key component in the evaluation, diagnosis and management of stroke or potential strokes caused by blood clots. An echocardiogram can identify a blood clot in the heart and early treatment can prevent it from traveling to the brain causing a stroke.

A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) can be done to assess stroke risk and is also used with blood thinners to guide procedures in patients with atrial fibrillation. A TEE provides higher resolution images and more information because it is done inside the body, through the esophagus, rather than the outside.

More information

The American Society of Echocardiography encourages patients to understand that treatments have changed as technology has advanced and that echocardiography is an excellent option for diagnosis, intervention, and ongoing treatment. Important patient information is available on two ASE websites. SeeMyHeart.org includes how to find an expert provider and an accredited echocardiography lab and ASEcho.org has the latest guidelines and clinical advances.