Echocardiography uses an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) to assess the functioning and health of the the heart by creating images out of sound waves. In addition to detecting many other heart problems, echocardiograms can diagnose specific heart conditions; determine if heart abnormalities exist; and evaluate the effectiveness of procedures that have been performed on the heart. There are five basic types of echocardiograms: transthoracic (TTE); transesophageal (TEE); stress; Dobutamine stress; and intravascular ultrasound.
The aorta is the largest and most important blood vessel in the body, as it pumps oxygenated blood throughout the body. Ultrasound imaging of the aorta is highly useful in detecting blockages, narrowing or aneurysms (bulging) within the aorta. This procedure is often used to screen for and detect signs of abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), a condition in which the walls of the abdominal aorta become weak and begin to expand outward. Ultrasound is a noninvasive, painless procedure that can help screen for this serious condition in patients over the age of 60 or those with a family history of AAA.
A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) is a diagnostic test that uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to produces images of the heart. The results of a TEE differ from those of a typical echocardiogram because the heart is accessed through the esophagus, an organ very near the upper chambers of the heart, rather than through the chest. Because of the proximity of the transducer to the heart, the ultrasound images produced by a TEE are extremely clear, showing details not otherwise visible.
Venous ultrasound is used to diagnose vascular conditions in the legs. This procedure can effectively detect blood clots in the legs that may cause dangerous conditions such as deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. While many diseased leg veins are visible on the skin in the form of varicose or spider veins, some patients may experience significant venous reflux, or back flow, that can only be detected through ultrasound imaging. A venous ultrasound shows a thorough, detailed image of the veins, along with the direction of blood flow, to help accurately diagnose vascular conditions.
A Doppler ultrasound is a noninvasive diagnostic imaging test that uses sound waves to evaluate blood flow through the major vessels. There are many benefits to Doppler ultrasound: It is the only type of ultrasound capable of evaluating blood vessels; it does not utilize any ionizing radiation; and it can easily be performed in a doctor's office. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, a Doppler ultrasound provides extremely accurate results, although it is occasionally possible for a bone to block part of an image. A Doppler ultrasound procedure is considered risk-free.
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