Ultrasound FAQ’s

Frequently Asked Questions about Heart Ultrasound (Echocardiography)

Frequently Asked Questions about Circulation Ultrasound (Vascular Ultrasound)

Frequently Asked Questions about Heart Ultrasound (Echocardiography)

Click the “Show Me” Icon to view ASE’s Library of Heart Ultrasound animations.

Why Should You Be Concerned?

  • Every year, about 1.2 million Americans will have a coronary attack. About 494,000 will die and many could be avoided.
  • Cardiovascular diseases, including CHD and stroke, remain the number one cause of death in the United States, killing more than 953,000 Americans each year.
  • Stroke is the 3rd leading cause of death in the US and a leading cause of death worldwide.
  • Cardiovascular disease claims more women’s lives than the next six causes of death combined — about 500,000 women’s lives a year.
  • Worldwide, about 1 in 150 babies are born with cardiac defects.

Heart Ultrasound (Echocardiography) can be very helpful to:

  • Evaluate a heart murmur
  • Diagnose and determine the extent of valve conditions
  • Determine the presence of abnormalities in the structure of the heart
  • Measure the size and thickness of the heart and its chambers
  • Assess the motion of the chamber walls and the extent of damage to the heart muscle after a heart attack
  • Assess how different parts of the heart are functioning in patients with chronic heart disease
  • Determine if fluid is collecting around the heart (Congestive Heart Problems)
  • Identify presence of tumors in the heart
  • Assess for and monitor congenital defects
  • Evaluate a patient’s response to a treatment or a corrective procedure
  • Evaluate blood flow through the heart
  • Assess the heart condition prior to transplant; see if major blood vessels have been damaged by traumatic injury
  •  Assess problems with the heart muscle (known as cardiomyopathy)
  • Assess abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Assess Bacterial Endocarditis (BE—an infection of the valves and inner lining of   the heart. This happens when bacteria from the skin, mouth or intestines enter the bloodstream and infect the heart.
  • Assess EF –ejection fraction levels (heart flow)
  • Rule out any of the above mentioned abnormalities

Why is Heart Ultrasound the most popular type of heart evaluation?

Heart Ultrasound (echocardiography) has been the most widely-used diagnostic test for heart disease for over 50 years!

  • A sedative is not needed for the most common type of heart ultrasound
  • Injection of a dye is not involved in the most common type of heart ultrasound. Injection of dye can be used to enhance the heart ultrasound in some circumstances, (contrast echocardiogram), but is not necessary for all heart ultrasound exams
  • You aren’t put in a claustrophobia-inducing machine to do the procedure. Heart Ultrasounds are performed as you lie on a comfortable table
  • Heart Ultrasound scanning equipment is readily available in almost all hospitals and clinics. Other new technology may not be available in every healthcare setting
  • Heart Ultrasound is not a high priced procedure. Other technologies can be much more expensive than getting a heart ultrasound
  • Heart Ultrasound is helpful for the diagnosis of heart health, a variety of heart diseases and ailments. Heart Ultrasounds can be used in all stages of life
  • Ultrasound does not involve any radiation exposure

Why Are You Waiting?

Heart Ultrasounds are not for everyone, but if you would like to protect your heart health because of a family history of heart disease, are in a high-risk group, or are experiencing any symptoms (shortness of breath, pain in your arm, etc.—see AHA guidelines), take the time to talk to your doctor today.

What types of heart ultrasounds are there?
The most common type of heart ultrasound performed is transthoracic, which is performed by placing a microphone-like device called the transducer on the outside of the chest wall with a gel-like substance to transmit sound waves into the body. There are also several other types:

- Doppler echocardiograms evaluate blood flow in the heart and blood vessels. This procedure measures the speed and direction of the blood flow within the heart. It screens the four valves for leaks. With Doppler echocardiograms, as the wand moves over your heart you will hear a “whooshing” sound much like that of a washing machine. This is the sound of blood moving within your heart.
- The stress echo or stress test combines the echo exam with a treadmill to walk on or a bike to pedal, or medication that shows the effect of exercise on the heart. Stress tests are used to diagnose the narrowing of the coronary arteries.
- The contrast echocardiogram combines an echocardiogram with an IV that contains a solution which allows the sonographer or physician to see the inside of the heart more clearly. This is a harmless solution that has no known side effects. You will need to have an IV started to receive a contrast echocardiogram.
- Transesophageal echo is a form of echo where a miniature ultrasound camera is passed down the throat to coat the back of the heart. This allows the physician to obtain very high quality moving images. You can be sedated during the procedure if you wish. Transesophageal echocardiograms are typically performed to evaluate serious heart conditions.

What is it like?
A trained cardiac professional (a sonographer) will move a microphone-like object (a transducer- A hand-held device that sends and receives ultrasound signals) over the chest area.  A small amount of gel used on the end of the transducer helps it glide over the skin. The transducer sends out high-frequency sound waves that are then shown (and captured) by equipment that includes a video screen and computer.  Most people feel not much more than the presence of the gel on their skin during the procedure, but others may feel some pressure from the transducer being pressed down in order to obtain an enhanced image.

How Safe Is It?
Heart Ultrasound is safer than some other heart imaging techniques because no radiation is involved. The sonographer taking your test will be right in the room next to you during the exam (without a protective vest or leaving the room!), In fact, while she or he is taking a moving picture of your heart they will be talking to you. The final results will be reviewed by a specially trained physician to assure an accurate interpretation.

Who Can Have a Heart Ultrasound?
This exceptional view of your heart enables doctors to study your heart’s functional and structural performance. Babies (even in the womb!), children, adults and the elderly all can safely experience cardiac ultrasound.

How do I find a qualified professional?
Looking for someone to perform or read a heart ultrasound? The designation Fellow of the American Society of Echocardiography (FASE) recognizes the experienced, dedicated ASE member with a diverse set of skills and comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of cardiac ultrasound (echocardiography). Click here to find a FASE in your area.

How do I find an accredited echo lab?
Private offices, clinics and departments within hospitals that are accredited by the Intersocietal Commission for the Accreditation of Echocardiography Laboratories (ICAEL) voluntarily submit to a review of their daily operations. This is a demonstration of a commitment to quality care. Click here to find an accredited lab in your area.

How Do I Know If I’m at Risk of Heart Failure?
Every year, 450,000 Americans die as the result of Sudden Cardiac Death. But a safe, non-invasive procedure could save lives. Widely available heart ultrasounds are as easy on the patient as taking a blood pressure reading. The ejection fraction, or EF, measures the amount of blood pumped with each heartbeat. Recent medical research shows that people with hearts that pump poorly – that is, have a low EF – are at increased risk for Sudden Cardiac Death. One screening tool that is showing promise is measuring a person’s EF.

What is EF?
Ejection Fraction (EF) is a key indicator of heart health and is frequently used to determine the pumping function of the heart. Simply stated, EF is the amount of blood pumped out of the heart during each beat or contraction. In a healthy heart, 50-75% of the blood is pumped out during each beat. This indicates that the heart is pumping well and able to deliver an adequate supply of blood to the body and brain. Many people with heart failure and heart disease pump out less than 50%. Heart failure (also known as congestive heart failure) is a condition in which the heart is not able to pump enough blood to meet the oxygen demands of the body. For heart patients, knowing your EF is key first step to determining your risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

How is EF Measured?
A commonly used test to determine your EF is a heart ultrasound (echocardiogram). This is non-invasive and easy on the patient, and is often performed right in the doctor’s office. By using ultrasound or sound waves, measurements are taken of the heart and with these measurements the pumping function the heart is calculated.

Should you know your EF number?
If you have heart disease, it is important to have your EF measured regularly, the same way that you have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. Keep in mind that your EF number can change, so it’s important that you talk to your doctor about tracking it over time.

Where do I get a heart ultrasound?
A heart ultrasound can be performed in any setting, i.e., wherever the patient is. While it is usually performed in a hospital or doctor’s office, it can be performed bedside in the emergency room, an intensive care unit, or in an operating room. A cardiac sonographer, a health care professional specially trained and certified in cardiac ultrasound, usually performs the ultrasound, and the results are reviewed by a doctor.

What happens if the doctor finds a problem?
The heart ultrasound specialist physician will explain the findings of the heart ultrasound to your own doctor. You may need to undergo additional tests, or treatment may be recommended. Treatment for heart problems includes medication, surgery, and lifestyle modification.

What is the difference between heart ultrasound (echocardiogram) and an EKG?
Heart Ultrasound shows a moving image of a beating heart on a television-like screen. An EKG, or electrocardiogram, measures the electrical currents in the heart. These are different diagnostic techniques used to obtain different information. The EKG tells about the electrical health of the heart while the heart ultrasound health of the heart walls and valves.

How long has heart ultrasound (echocardiography) been around?
Ultrasounds began to be used on the heart in a clinical setting in the late 1960s. The technology is still going through improvements and developments. Live, moving pictures keep heart ultrasound as one of the most prescribed diagnostic tests.

Do health plans cover heart ultrasound?
Most health plans, HMO’s, and Medicare cover echocardiography for established reasons.

 

Frequently Asked Questions about Circulation Ultrasound (Vascular Ultrasound)

Click here to view a Non-Invasive Vascular Ultrasound

Click here to view an animation that discusses Common Vascular Problems

Why Should You Be Concerned?

  • Every year, about 1.2 million Americans will have a coronary attack. About 494,000 will die and many could be avoided.
  • Cardiovascular diseases, including CHD and stroke, remain the number one cause of death in the United States, killing more than 953,000 Americans each year.
  • Stroke is the 3rd leading cause of death in the US and a leading cause of death worldwide.
  • Cardiovascular disease claims more women’s lives than the next six causes of death combined — about 500,000 women’s lives a year.

What is Circulation Ultrasound (Vascular Ultrasound)?

Circulation Ultrasound provides your doctor with moving images of your circulatory system (arteries and veins) and takes excellent pictures that will help your doctor evaluate your circulation’s health. This ultrasound uses the same technology that allows doctors to see an unborn baby inside a pregnant mother.

Circulation Ultrasound can be helpful to:

  • help monitor the blood flow to organs and tissues throughout the body
  • locate and identify blockages in blood vessels and abnormalities like blood clots, plaque or emboli and help plan for their effective treatment
  • determine whether a patient is a good candidate for a more invasive procedure such as surgery
  • to plan or evaluate the success of procedures that graft or bypass blood vessels (for example, heart bypass operation)

Why is Circulation Ultrasound Important?
Circulation Ultrasound (Vascular Ultrasound) has been the most widely-used diagnostic test in the detection and treatment of blood vessel problems

  • Ultrasound scanning is noninvasive (no needles or injections) and is usually painless.
  • Ultrasound is widely available, easy-to-use and less expensive than other imaging methods.
  • Ultrasound imaging uses no ionizing radiation.
  • Ultrasound scanning gives a clear picture of soft tissues that do not show up well on x-ray images.

What types of Circulation Ultrasound are there?

  • Peripheral Vascular Ultrasound -This study involves the assessment of the arteries and veins  of either the arms, legs or kidneys. It provides information  about the presence of narrowing in these arteries (common causes  of pain in the legs when walking).These images are analyzed todetermine whether or not you have blockages in your arteries, blood clots in your veins, or if an abdominal aortic aneurysm is present. This test takes bout 30-45  minutes.
  • Upper or Lower Arterial Evaluation -  If you have blockages in your arteries, leg pain which occurs with walking and is relieved at rest, previous balloon angioplasty/stent placement or bypass grafts of the legs, this test can determine the severity of the blockages. During the test, you will be asked to walk on a treadmill to determine the effects of exercise on your circulation.  Blood pressure cuffs are placed on your arms and ankles to obtain measurements during this procedure.  The length of the test is 2 hours.
  • Upper or Lower Venous Evaluation – This test determines if there are blood clots in the veins of your arms or legs. This test takes about 1 1/2 hours.
  • Carotid Ultrasound – This test involves the technician placing an ultrasound probe  over the great vessels of the head and neck. It provides information  on whether there is a narrowing in the carotid or basilar arteries  which supply blood to the brain. Narrowing of these arteries can be a common cause of stroke. It usually takes 30-45 minutes.

What is it like?
A trained professional (a Sonographer or Vascular Technician) will move a microphone-like device (called a transducer) over the appropriate area.  A small amount of gel used on the end of the transducer helps it glide over the skin. The transducer sends out high-frequency sound waves that are then shown (and captured) by equipment that includes a video screen and computer.  Most people feel not much more than the presence of the gel on their skin during the procedure, but others may feel some pressure from the transducer being pressed down in order to obtain an enhanced image.

How Safe Is It?
Circulation Ultrasound is safer than some other imaging techniques because no radiation is involved. The sonographer or vascular technician taking your test will be right in the room next to you during the exam. The final results will be reviewed by a specially trained physician to assure an accurate interpretation.

Who Can Have a Circulation Ultrasound?
Since Circulation Ultrasound does not involve radiation and is non-invasive, almost anyone (even babies and the elderly) can safely experience circulation ultrasound. There are no known risks of experiencing a standard diagnostic ultrasound for humans.

How do I find a qualified professional?
Looking for someone to perform or read a heart ultrasound? The designation Fellow of the American Society of Echocardiography (FASE) recognizes the experienced, dedicated ASE member with a diverse set of skills and comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of cardiac ultrasound (echocardiography). Click here to find a FASE in your area.

How do I find an accredited lab?
Private offices, clinics and departments within hospitals that are accredited by the Intersocietal Commission for the Accreditation of Vascular Laboratories (ICAVL) voluntarily submit to a review of their daily operations. This is a demonstration of a commitment to quality care. Click here to find an accredited lab in your area.

Where do I get a circulation ultrasound?
A circulation ultrasound can be performed in any setting, i.e., wherever the patient is. While it is usually performed in a hospital or doctor’s office, it can be performed bedside in the emergency room, an intensive care unit, or in an operating room.

What happens if the doctor finds a problem?
The circulation ultrasound specialist will explain the findings of the ultrasound to your own doctor, who will then recommend treatment or further evaluation.

How long has circulation ultrasound (vascular ultrasound) been around?
Ultrasounds began to be used on the heart in a clinical setting in the late 1960s. The technology is still going through improvements and developments. Live, moving pictures keep heart ultrasound as one of the most prescribed diagnostic tests.

Do health plans cover circulation ultrasound?
Most health plans, HMO’s, and Medicare cover ultrasound for established reasons.