A transthoracic echocardiogram is a procedure used to check for problems with your heart and the blood vessels around it. A transthoracic echocardiogram uses sound waves which are sent through your chest using a hand-held device to picture the structure and function of your heart.
It's a type of ultrasound scan, this means it involves using a small probe to send out high-frequency sound waves. These create echoes when they bounce off different parts of the body which are picked up by the probe and turned into an image which is then displayed on a monitor.
A transthoracic echocardiogram may be requested by your cardiologist or any doctor who thinks there may be a problem with your heart. The test will generally be carried out at a hospital or cardiology clinic by a trained specialist.
Despite their similar names, an echocardiogram is very different from an electrocardiogram (ECG), which is used to check the rhythm and electrical activity of your heart. While an echocardiogram is purely focussed on assessing the structure and overall function of your heart and surrounding blood vessels.
For your transthoracic echocardiogram, you will be asked to lie on your back or left side. A gel will be placed on your chest to allow the ultrasound probe to move smoothly across your chest. Some gels used contain a contrast agent, this helps the create a clearer image of your heart. You will be advised to lie as still as possible in order to get an accurate image from the test, to do this, you may be asked to hold your breath for a short space of time or breathe more slowly than usual.
If you are having a stress transthoracic echocardiogram, a specific type of test to determine the structure of your heart when it's under pressure or stress, you may be asked to run on a treadmill or ride an exercise bike. If you are unable to perform these exercises, your doctor may administer a drug to make your heart work harder through the use of an IV. During a stress, transthoracic echocardiogram cardiologists will check your heart both when it's resting and when it's under stress. They will look for changes in the function of your heart as it beats at different rates in order to determine how healthy it is.
The images from a transthoracic echocardiogram are not always clear and may be distorted by shadows or reflections. This can look like problems with the heart when in fact, your heart may be of normal health. There are also some areas which are difficult to detect through this manner of testing. Your doctor will be able to advise you if this is the best form of testing for you.
If you have a transthoracic echocardiogram coming up and would like more information, get in touch with our cardiology department. We can also advise you on other forms of cardiology tests that might be appropriate for you.