If you have ever taken your child to the cardiologist, there is a good chance your child had a test called an echocardiogram performed. If they did, you may have wondered, what exactly is an echocardiogram and how does it work?
An echocardiogram, or “echo” for short, is a non-invasive test that many cardiologists use to evaluate the structure and function of the heart. This test uses ultrasound waves (high-pitched sound waves) to recreate an image of the heart on a computer screen. In essence, the echocardiogram is a video depiction of the heart in real time.
This video of the heart allows your child’s cardiologist to see the walls, valves and vessels of the heart, as well as the blood flowing through these areas. Doctors can look at the entire heart and evaluate for abnormal structure, tight or leaky valves and any holes that may be present. They can also measure the direction and speed of blood as it moves through different areas of the heart. Finally, doctors can use their measurement of blood flow to estimate the pressure in different chambers of the heart and across the valves of the heart.
Echocardiograms are used regularly, along with other tests and physical examination to help investigate symptoms and diagnose cardiac problems. They are also useful to evaluate the results of surgery or other cardiac procedures. In this way, doctors can be certain that they always know what the heart looks like and how well it is working.
Echocardiograms are a quick and harmless way for doctors to gather a great amount of information regarding your child’s heart. If your child is nervous about laying still for the study, you can reassure them that this is an easy and painless test.
Christy Glasow, M.D.