Echocardiography is a noninvasive, ultrasonic examination which produces highly detailed images of the heart muscle, valves, and blood vessels. A probe is pressed against the chest wall which generates harmless sound waves that bounce off the heart (hence the term echo) and moving pictures of the heart can be reconstructed. In addition, moving objects such as blood flow can be measured by determining the change in frequency of the returning signal. Echocardiographic evaluation may be combined with stress testing following the administration of medication or following exercise treadmill. In this fashion characterization of cardiac function under stress conditions can be evaluated. High resolution images can be obtained with transesophageal echocardiography in which the ultrasonic probe is passed into the esophagus after local anesthesia to the back of the throat. An echocardiographic evaluation generally takes approximately 30 minutes to perform. Echocardiography does not involve radiation exposure.
The Echocardiographic Laboratory at Hartford Hospital includes 8 echocardiographic imaging machines, a fully integrated stress laboratory, and a transesophageal procedure room. All studies are integrated for digital image acquisition and storage. Over 1200 studies are performed annually of which approximately 1000 are transesophageal echocardiograms and 500 are stress echocardiograms.