The heart is at the center of our cardiovascular system. We rely on a well functioning heart to keep us alive and healthy. If our heart begins to function at a suboptimal level then we are likely to start experiencing unpleasant side effects. It is of even greater concern if our heart isn’t working properly and we don’t experience any symptoms because we are not aware that we need to seek treatment. Some diseases of the heart are undiagnosed as a result. Heart disease is one of the most common causes of death in both men and women in the UK but many of these deaths could be prevented with early detection and the correct treatment.
Seeing a consultant for a private echocardiogram is one of the most effective ways to diagnose heart problems at an early stage and avoid more serious complications at a later date.
What is an echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is a procedure which enables a clinician to look at the structure of the heart and its pumping chambers. It also shows the surrounding blood vessels and flow of blood through the vessels. It is a type of ultrasound scan which sends out high-frequency sound waves which bounce back as echoes when they hit certain parts of the body. This works to create a moving picture on a screen from which the clinician can diagnose any problems. There are different types of echocardiography and your consultant will decide which is the most appropriate based on your individual symptoms.
- Transthoracic echocardiogram. During this procedure, sticky sensors are placed on the chest and then connected to a monitoring machine. A gel is then applied to the skin to help the ultrasound probe move around the chest easily.
- Transoesophageal echocardiogram. In this case, the patient will be given a sedative and local anesthetic spray and then a probe is placed down into the gullet and stomach to get a different kind of image.
- Stress echocardiogram. A patient who is experiencing problems after exercising may be given an echocardiogram soon after a session on a treadmill or bike. Alternatively, they may be given an injection to make their heart work harder.
- Contrast echocardiography. In order to get a better view of the heart, a contrast solution may be injected into the bloodstream. This solution then shows up on the scan.
What can be detected using an echocardiogram?
- If the heart has been damaged by a heart attack when the supply of blood is suddenly blocked, the echocardiogram is able to show exactly which areas have been damaged and how the damage has affected the heart.
- If the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs then heart failure might be diagnosed by echocardiogram. This would mean that either the heart chambers can’t fill with enough blood or can’t pump it out again with enough force. This is a serious condition that requires medical care.
- If valves of the heart don’t open fully this can restrict blood flow, conversely, if the valves don’t close properly then blood can leak backward. This is called heart valve disease and can put an extra strain in the heart. Another important condition to diagnose at an early stage.
- Cardiomyopathy occurs when the walls of the heart become stretched, thickened or stiff. Although there is no cure, the symptoms need to be treated in order to prevent complications.
Some of these conditions can be potentially fatal without management or medication, proving an echocardiogram to be a truly life-saving procedure.