Harvard Heart Letter

Seeing the heart with sound

Ultrasound-based echocardiograms yield ultra images of the heart.

Silent sound waves don't seem like they'd be much use. They are, though. They're the force behind submarine trackers and fish finders. In medicine, they give expectant parents a first look at their developing baby, and let doctors peer into the heart. An echocardiogram, which uses these sound waves, creates images with more detail than an x-ray but without any radiation exposure. It can also create real-time videos that show the heart in action.

Why is it done?

An echocardiogram can reveal the size and shape of the heart, the thickness and motion of its muscular wall, and the operation of its valves. It can show blood flow patterns through the heart and determine how much blood remains in the heart after each contraction. Because of this versatility, doctors perform echocardiograms to

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