Our Services

Imaging Services (Radiology)

Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of your heart. This commonly used test allows your doctor to see how your heart is beating and pumping blood. Your doctor can use the images from an echocardiogram to identify various abnormalities in the heart muscle and valves.

Pediatric echocardiography. Gritman Medical Center also offers pediatric echocardiography, which has become the primary tool in the diagnosis and assessment of congenital and acquired heart disease in infants, children, and adolescents.

Why an echocardiogram is used

Your doctor may suggest an echocardiogram if he or she suspects problems with the valves or chambers of your heart or your heart's ability to pump. An echocardiogram can also be used to detect congenital heart defects in unborn babies. Depending on what information your doctor needs, you may have one of the following kinds of echocardiograms:

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram. This is a standard, noninvasive echocardiogram. A technologist (sonographer) spreads gel on your chest and then presses a device known as a transducer firmly against your skin, aiming an ultrasound beam through your chest to your heart. The transducer records the sound wave echoes your heart produces. A computer converts the echoes into moving images on a monitor. If your lungs or ribs block the view, a small amount of intravenous dye may be used to improve the images.
  • Doppler echocardiogram. When sound waves bounce off blood cells moving through your heart and blood vessels, they change pitch. These changes (Doppler signals) can help your doctor measure the speed and direction of the blood flow in your heart. Doppler techniques are used in most transthoracic echocardiograms, and can check blood flow problems and blood pressures in the arteries of your heart that traditional ultrasound might not detect.
  • Stress echocardiogram. Some heart problems — particularly those involving the coronary arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle — occur only during physical activity. For a stress echocardiogram, ultrasound images of your heart are taken before and immediately after walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. If you're unable to exercise, you may get an injection of a medication to make your heart work as hard as if you were exercising.

Safety

There are few risks involved in a standard transthoracic echocardiogram. You may feel some discomfort similar to pulling off an adhesive bandage when the technician removes the electrodes placed on your chest during the procedure. During a stress echocardiogram, exercise or medication — not the echocardiogram itself — may temporarily cause an irregular heartbeat. Serious complications, such as a heart attack, are rare.

Preparing for your exam

No special preparations are necessary for a standard transthoracic echocardiogram. Your doctor will ask you not to eat for a few hours beforehand if you're having a stress echocardiogram. If you'll be walking on a treadmill during a stress echocardiogram, wear comfortable shoes.