Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Heart Tests: Echocardiogram

This is part 16 of our continuing series, the heart of the matter. The last part is here and our disclaimer is here.

The echocardiogram is often use as a test for looking at the heart as a whole. It is very useful to detect structural abnormalities of the heart eg "hole-in-the-heart, valvular defects, crisscross hearts, blood clots in heart, etc. It is also good at diagnosing failure of the heart as a pump. It remains the investigation of choice for detecting congenital heart disease, valvular heart disease, heart muscle disease, heart lining disease, and also heart function.

Here's a picture of a color Doppler echocardiogram which we could use to diagnose structural heart disease.

However, there are a few things that it cannot do, eg. it cannot see heart arteries reliably, it cannot detect heart muscle lack of blood supply reliably unless coupled with provocation, and it cannot detect viability of the heart muscle reliably. In short, it is not so reliable in diagnosing early coronary artery disease. As we will mention later, stress echocardiogram (echo heart with provocation) can be used to detect CAD.

In the next part of the series we cover the stress ECG.

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