A transthoracic echocardiogram, or echo, is a test that uses high frequency sound waves called ultrasound to examine and take pictures of the heart while it is beating. It is a safe, painless procedure that produces real-time images used to visualize and diagnose problems of the heart. The information obtained during the echo will make it possible for a cardiologist to watch the heart in motion, determine whether the heart valves are opening and closing properly, determine the size of the heart chambers and vessels, and measure the thickness of the heart walls. During most echo procedures, an additional test called a doppler echocardiography is performed to determine the direction and velocity of blood flow within the heart.
A stress echocardiogram, or stress echo, as it is most commonly called, combines an ultrasound study of the heart with an exercise test. The test allows doctors to learn how the heart functions when it is made to work harder.
It is a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to produce a study of the motion of the heart's chambers and valves. The echo sound waves create an image on the monitor as the ultrasound transducer is passed over the heart. This ultrasound test is performed just prior to and immediately following the exercise treadmill stress test. The results of both tests are used to determine the presence of heart disease and safe levels of exercise following a heart attack or heart surgery. Any individuals who are experiencing heart disease symptoms should see a doctor immediately. The stress echo is available to any patient with heart disease symptoms at the request of his or her physician.
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