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Echocardiogram (cont.)

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Why is an echocardiogram performed?

The purpose of an echocardiogram is to assess the structure and function of the heart. It is recommended as a noninvasive procedure as part of assessing potential and established heart problems.

Regarding structure, the test can assess the general size of the heart, the size of the four heart chambers, and the appearance and function of the four heart valves. It can look at the two septa of the heart; the atrial septum separates the right and left atrium and the ventricular septum separates the right and left ventricles. It can also assess the pericardium (the sac that lines the heart) and the aorta.

Regarding function, the echocardiogram can determine how the heart valves open and close. It can evaluate whether the heart muscle squeezes appropriately and how efficiently. Cardiac output measures how much blood the heart pumps. Ejection fraction measures what percent of blood within the heart is pumped out to the body with each heartbeat. It can also measure how well the heart relaxes in between beats, when the heart fills for the next pump.

Some heart issues that the echocardiogram can help evaluate include the following:

  • Heart valve disorders: Stenosis (narrowed), insufficiency or regurgitation (leaking), and endocarditis (infection of the valves)
  • Abnormalities of the septum: Atrial septal defect, ventricular septal defect, and patent foramen ovale
  • Wall motion abnormalities: Cardiomyopathy, atherosclerotic heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease), and trauma
  • Diseases of the pericardium (the sac that lines the heart): This includes pericardial effusion (assessment of fluid in the pericardial sac)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/29/2014

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