You’re a woman “of a certain age” and your doctor orders an echocardiogram, saying it’s time to “check out a few things.” You feel fine, so what exactly does that mean?
An Echocardiogram May Predict the Future: Heart Disease and Women
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in U.S. women. Physicians sometimes order echocardiograms for female patients if they see signs of heart problems:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in legs/ankles

An echocardiogram is the “gold standard” for following a known cardiac condition, said one cardiologist. For many women, it’s like a mammogram (but easier).

Your first echocardiogram sets the bar for your heart health. Your doctor can compare it with later tests to see if there are marked deterioration or changes in heart health.

Heart disease isn’t all about aging. In recent years, heart risk in young women has increased as much as 31%. You may have a medical condition that predisposes your body to heart disease. Those include:

  • Chemotherapy/radiation treatments
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Heart muscle failure – This is a condition – usually temporary – called “broken heart syndrome” or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, apical ballooning syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy. It occurs when a stressful situation triggers heart muscle failure.
  • High blood pressure
  • Inactivity
  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Smoking
  • Stress

What is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound image of your heart. Using high-frequency sound waves, the images are created that show how your heart muscle and its valves and chambers are conducting blood flow. This test is nothing new, but technology and image-creation continue to improve every year.

How Do I Prepare?
Unlike many tests, you do nothing to prepare for an echocardiogram. Eat, drink as usual, and continue with normal activities.

What Happens During an Echocardiogram?
You’ll want to remove jewelry and put on a hospital gown. In some situations, doctors request a contrast agent be injected into your bloodstream to produce sharper images. You’ll be positioned on an exam table, where the technician will apply a gel to an ultrasound “wand” then move it along your chest. There should be no discomfort during this test.

When Will I Get My Results?
If your cardiologist is present during the test, you’ll have real-time evaluation available. Your official echo test results should be obtained fairly quickly; within a day or two.

How Else Are Echocardiograms Used?
A transesophageal echocardiogram is a procedure to “see” how heart valves are functioning. Patients are sedated and a special ultrasound wand is inserted down the throat into the esophagus located behind the heart muscle.

An exercise stress echocardiogram looks for arterial problems that might impact blood flow to the heart. It’s the same as a traditional echocardiogram except for a brief exercise period (treadmill or stationary bike exercise) occurs. The technician takes before and after images.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
It’s uncertain from a scientific standpoint, but many heart professionals believe women are more susceptible to stress-related heart disease. Reducing stress in your work and personal life is possible.

The professionals at Cardiovascular Associates of Lake County are committed to helping women live longer and better lives. If you have questions about heart disease and your role in maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, contact us. You only have one life, so let’s make it a good one.