An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart. Also known as a cardiac ultrasound, it uses standard ultrasound techniques to image two-dimensional slices of the heart. The latest ultrasound systems now employ 3D real-time imaging.
An echocardiogram image shows that the human heart has four chambers. Apical view – left side of the heart to the right. Anatomically correct image – heart’s apex at bottom. The trace in the lower left shows the cardiac cycle and the red mark the time in the cardiac cycle that the image was captured.
In addition to creating two-dimensional pictures of the cardiovascular system, an echocardiogram can also produce accurate assessment of the velocity of blood and cardiac tissue at any arbitrary point using pulsed or continuous wave doppler ultrasound. This allows assessment of cardiac valve areas and function, any abnormal communications between the left and right side of the heart, any leaking of blood through the valves (valvular regurgitation), and calculation of the cardiac output as well as the Ejection fraction.
Echocardiography was an early medical application of ultrasound. Echocardiography was also the first application of intravenous contrast-enhanced ultrasound. This technique injects gas-filled microbubbles into the venous system to improve tissue and blood delineation. Contrast is also currently being evaluated for its effectiveness in evaluating myocardial perfusion. It can also be used with Doppler ultrasound to improve flow-related measurements.
Echocardiography is usually performed by cardiologists or cardiac sonographers.