Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Different ways to do echocardiograms

Q. I had an echocardiogram of my heart, which was pretty simple and painless. Then, my cardiologist told me that I needed another echocardiogram, this time with a probe down my throat. What's the difference between these two procedures?

A. An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to create still and video images
of your heart, which can show how well it's working. The most common version of this test is called a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE), because the ultrasound probe moves over the front of the chest,
or thoracic area.

But putting the ultrasound probe on a thin, flexible instrument that's placed down the esophagus (the tube connecting your mouth and stomach) provides a closer look at certain parts of the heart. The esophagus is just behind the heart, so the sound waves don't have to travel through the skin, muscle, bone, and tissue of the chest. This procedure, called a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE), is
better for examining certain parts of the heart and its valves. It may also help your cardiologist make sure there are no blood clots in your heart.

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