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In an echocardiogram (echo), sound waves are beamed like sonar through the heart to diagnose valve disease and determine quality of heart muscle contractions, heart chamber size, and presence of fluid around the heart. A recording of these sounds is then converted into moving pictures on a monitor.

The echo is combined with doppler ultrasound and color to evaluate blood as it flows through the cardiac valves. The Doppler part of the echocardiogram measures changes in the sound waves to pinpoint valve leakage, valve stenosis (stiffness), and shunts (holes in the heart), as well as any abnormal connection between blood vessels.

Stress echo

A stress echo is used to evaluate how the heart muscle and valves work during physical activity. If an individual is unable to run on a treadmill, special medications may be used to increase the heart rate.

Transesophageal echo

In this very specialized echo, a special transducer (microphone) is attached to a long, thin, flexible tube called an endoscope. After a light sedation is administered, the physician gently slides the tube through the mouth and into the esophagus.

Once in position, the transesophageal echo (TEE) provides a close look at the heart without interference of the ribs or lungs. The TEE may be used during cardiac surgery to monitor how the heart and heart valves are working.