There are some ways in which doctors can observe heart function and several reasons why we would want to. By observing the heart in motion, we can understand better the potential reasons for various symptoms that may be occurring and are then better able to manage heart health. Two common diagnostic tests performed include the echocardiogram and the stress echo (also an echocardiogram). Here, we want to discuss the details of each.
A standard echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound that allows us to observe all four chambers of the heart. Imaging is obtained as a hand-held device emits ultrasound waves through superficial tissue to the heart. These waves morph as they come into contact with anatomical structures, which enable us to examine the way that blood is pumping through heart valves and how the heart itself is pumping.
An echocardiogram may be ordered to evaluate symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. This diagnostic imaging test may also be performed to examine further a heart murmur that has been identified during a routine physical. Finally, there are instances in which physicians order an echocardiogram in the absence of a cardiac condition as a way to rule out other potential conditions.
The Stress Echo
Whereas a standard electrocardiogram is a static test, a stress echo is more dynamic. It is performed to show us the heart in action. So, the standard electrocardiogram does not involve the “stress” of physical activity; it is performed while you are sitting or lying down. The stress echo is performed while you walk on a treadmill at varying speeds and incline.
There are 3 stages to a stress echo. The test begins with a standard electrocardiogram to provide a baseline reading. Then, the treadmill stress begins. Physical stress load is increased every few minutes until symptoms such as shortness of breath occur, or until the target heart rate has been reached. Immediately after one or the other of those targets, a second electrocardiogram is performed.
In many cases, the stress echo follows an abnormal reading during a baseline electrocardiogram. Additionally, this level of testing can provide valuable information in the even that your doctor suspects coronary artery disease.
We are fortunate to have sophisticated technologies to help us measure and monitor heart health. If you have questions regarding diagnostic testing or cardiac symptoms, we’re happy to speak with you. Call Premier Cardiology Consultants at 516-437-5600 to schedule a consultation.