Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Heart disease can affect both men and women and the most common type of heart condition is coronary heart disease. In 2008, almost 1 out of 4 individuals with heart disease died from the disease in the U.S. alone. In 2010, the costs associated with coronary heart disease in the U.S. were projected to reach almost $109 billion in healthcare services, medications, and productivity loss.
Defining Cardiovascular Disease
A cardiovascular disease is defined as a disease or injury of the cardiovascular system which includes the heart, blood vessels of the heart, and the veins and arteries in the brain and the rest of the body. Over the last four decades, the rate of mortality caused by heart disease in the United States has gradually declined. Several factors are believed to have contributed to this reduction in mortality including early screening, better control of risk factors, and improved management of heart diseases.
Importance of Early Screening
When it comes to heart problems, early screening plays an indispensible role in ensuring that the damage is limited and complications do not arise from the health condition. There are different diagnostic tests that can be done upon the request of a doctor to assess the function of the heart and detect any possible problems.
Among the most common tests done to assess heart function include echocardiogram (ECG), echocardiography or echo test, coronary angiography, and stress test. An echocardiogram can be used to detect enlargement of the heart muscle, abnormal heart rhythms, and presence of coronary artery disease. Echocardiography or echo test provides information about the structure and function of the heart and is considered to be the best diagnostic test for detecting heart failure. Coronary angiography is commonly used to assess the arteries of the heart. A stress test may also be done to evaluate heart function when it is under stress since some problems may become evident only when the heart is working harder than normal.
The Value of Echocardiography
Echocardiography is a non invasive procedure that uses ultrasound waves to create an image of the heart as it functions in real time. It provides important information about the heart including changes in the heart’s structure, function of heart valves, the type of heart failure if any, the pumping capacity of the heart, and severity of damage if any.
Given the valuable information obtained from echocardiography, it has become one of the most commonly used diagnostic tests for heart problems. A doctor may also order an echocardiography for monitoring patients with known heart conditions as part of disease management.
Types of Echocardiography
1) Transthoracic echocardiography
Transthoracic echocardiography involves the use of a handheld device or transducer that is placed on the patient’s chest. The transducer emits high frequency sound waves and produce images of the heart.
2) Transesophageal echocardiography
In a transesophageal echocardiography, the transducer is inserted into the esophagus, the structure between the throat and the stomach. The esophagus is anatomically close to the heart and can give clearer images since there are no other interfering structures such as the lungs.
3) Stress echocardiography
A stress echocardiography can be done in two ways. The first involves exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike and the echocardiograph is conducted before and after the exercise. The second way of doing stress echocardiography involves the use of a drug such as dobutamine or adenosine which stimulates the heart to work like you are exercising.
Doctor’s Request for Echocardiography
A doctor will request an echocardiography if the patients exhibits signs and symptoms that are indicative of a heart problem. Doctors can obtain information such as size of the patient’s heart (enlarged heart can be a result of valve malfunction, heart failure, or high blood pressure), valve structure, strength of heart muscles (weak muscles can be a result of poor blood supply which can occur in coronary artery disease or from damage as a result of heart attack), presence of blood clots or tumors, and other abnormalities in the heart’s structure.
Early screening of heart disease is important to prevent complications in the long term. Seeing a doctor once you feel a symptom such as shortness of breath or chest pain and ensuring that ordered diagnostic tests are done can make a big difference in ensuring prompt management of heart disease.