An echocardiography test, known as an ECG, is a diagnostic test that helps to record electrical impulses and function of the heart. Echocardiography describes a number of different tests and diagnostics, which employ an echocardiogram, or picture of the heart and its function. Echocardiography can also include an echo, or echocardiographic stress test that determines the overall function and health and wellness of the heart muscle during physical activity.
What is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is a diagnostic "picture" of the heart as it is functioning. The process utilizes ultrasound to assess and analyze measurements of the heart, blood flow, and to diagnose problems with any of the heart chambers, valves, or blood vessels.
An echocardiogram offers two-dimensional cross section views of a beating heart and can be performed in a hospital or doctor's office. This is known as a resting echocardiogram, a painless procedure. Adhesive patches are placed on the skin of the chest. Wires or electrodes are attached from the patches to the testing equipment, which transmits viewable pictures of the heart in action. The echocardiogram enables the doctor to determine how fast the chambers in the heart fill and empty.
An echocardiogram helps the doctor determine not only the volume of blood flow into and out of heart chambers, but also the thickness of the heart walls, and to help diagnose damage to the heart muscle caused by heart disease such as hypertension, high cholesterol, or narrowed arteries.
The Echocardiogram Procedure
A person undergoing an echocardiogram will be asked to lie down on a bed or table. He may be instructed to remain as still as possible throughout the test. The healthcare professional places six electric pads or patches across the chest area. Pads may also be placed on the arms or legs, under the left armpit, and situated on the chest, depending on the doctor and what they're looking for.
Following placements of the electrode pads, insulated wires called leads are attached to the pads and then to the echocardiogram machine. Each of these wires or leads records information regarding the heartbeat and rhythm on a piece of graph paper from the machine.
The doctor then interprets the waves of electrical impulses recorded by the machine to determine overall function of the heart. In some cases, one single rhythm strip may be taken by the machine over a longer period of time to determine whether or not the heart is beating slower or faster than it should.
In some cases, a special device may be worn by a patient for about 24 hours in order to record that person's heartbeat over a longer period of time. Called a Holter monitor, this device is hooked up much like the leads in a traditional setting, but the recorded impulses are sent to a smaller device called a portable heart monitor, attached by straps to the patient's chest or waist. The recordings can be accessed via computers to a main observational station in the doctor's office or a hospital.
Other forms of echocardiograms are also available, including:
Who Benefits From An Echocardiogram Test?
An echocardiogram may be used to diagnose any damage to the heart muscle, whether or not the heart muscle is beating normally, and the size and positioning of the four chambers of the heart. To determine the presence of heart disease, or the cause of heart palpitations, chest pain or arrhythmias, a cardiologist or doctor may order an echocardiogram.
An echocardiogram is perfectly safe and doesn't cause any damage to the heart muscle, and is a painless, relatively fast procedure. A person undergoing an echocardiogram may return to his daily activities immediately following the test, as per his doctor's instructions.
How Much Does an Echocardiogram Cost?
An echocardiogram may cost anywhere from $200 to $600 to $1,450 in the United States, though individuals utilizing a Holter monitor may pay more. Costs of an echocardiogram may differ depending on whether or not Doppler color flow velocity mapping or Doppler pulsed wave/continuous wave with spectral analysis is utilized.
These costs may or may not reflect reading of the test results, where the test was performed, and medical or hospital insurance deductibles. Patients traveling to foreign medical destinations such as India may save hundreds of dollars on echocardiography tests.
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