How Ultrasounds are used for the Heart

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When the word “ultrasound” is mentioned, most think of pregnancy.  After all, prenatal ultrasounds are a common tool that most of us have encountered in some form or fashion, whether you’ve had one yourself or know someone else who has.  However, ultrasounds are incredibly useful diagnostic tools that are used across many different types of medicine, including cardiology.

Ultrasound technology can give your physician good insight into the health of your veins and arteries by using ultrasound waves to produce images of blood flow and pressure.  Best of all, it can do so painlessly, non-invasively, and without the use of radiation.  If your cardiologist suspects a potential problem involving your heart or any part of the vascular system, they may wish to perform one of the following ultrasound tests:

Echocardiogram (Echo) to View the Heart

Echocardiograms, often called echos, are used to provide visualization of the heart in order to locate abnormalities in structure or function.  If you are suffering from unexplained chest pain, pressure or an abnormal heart rhythm, an echocardiogram may be your physician’s first step in an attempt to uncover an explanation.  Additionally, an echo may be performed to check for any of the following:

  • Heart wall thickness and movement
  • Size of the heart’s four chambers
  • Performance of an artificial heart valve
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Blood clots and tumors

Ultrasound for Carotid Arteries

Carotid ultrasounds are used to check for blockages of the carotid arteries which are responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood to the brain.  These blockages are typically caused when plaque build-up over time causes gradual artery narrowing.  In some cases, this narrowing can eventually lead to a complete blockage and stroke.  Your physician may request this test if they suspect potential blockage due to any of the following factors:

  • Previous mini-stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • High cholesterol or blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease or stroke
  • Coronary artery disease

Ultrasound for the Abdominal Aorta

The aorta is the main artery through which blood is delivered from the heart to all other parts of the body.  Think of it has a super highway for blood transportation with smaller arteries branching off.  If your doctor suspects a problem such as the potential risk for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, he may request an abdominal aorta ultrasound.  Typically, the risk factors for the condition include the following:

  • Being a white male
  • Being a smoker
  • Over the age of 65
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Family history of the condition
  • Previous related health concerns such as other artery aneurysm or thickening of the artery walls

If your physician has recommended an ultrasound for your heart, don’t panic.  While there may be good cause for them doing so, such diagnostic tests are crucial to helping identify and address potential problems before they have the opportunity to strike.  If you have a family history of heart problems or meet certain risk factors, schedule an appointment with a Cardiovascular Institute of the South cardiologist to learn which tests you may need and what you should be doing to keep your heart strong.


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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff