My Echocardiogram Is Abnormal: Now What?

 

Every 40 seconds, an American has a heart attack. Understanding your heart health is imperative to keep you from being another statistic.

Getting back an abnormal echocardiogram can be very scary, especially if you are unsure of what that even means for you.

We are going to dive into what happens when you get an abnormal echocardiogram and other things you should know concerning the echocardiogram.

 

What Does an Echocardiogram Show?

An echocardiogram, also sometimes called an echo, is an ultrasound of the heart’s structure and size.

They are useful because they give us information about the heart we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see. The echo shows exactly what is going on in each chamber of your beating heart.

What Is the Difference Between a Normal and Abnormal Echo?

When the hearts valves and chambers appear to be working as they should that means you have a normal echo. That means you echo is free from signs of tumors or blood clots, that your valves are opening and closing as they should, and there are no signs of infection.

An abnormal echo could show things like the following:

  • Blood clots
  • Improperly opening and closing valves
  • Your hearts walls are too thick or too thin
  • Pericardial effusion which is fluid around the heart

When you get these results it is important to understand that the echo shows what is going on in and around your heart, but it does not show why it is happening.

Now that you have gotten the results back that you have had an abnormal echo, you need to ask your doctor some questions.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

There are a few questions to ask once your results are in. These questions can help you to understand exactly what is going on. Ask questions like the following:

  • What caused my condition
  • How can we treat the condition
  • Will I need additional testing
  • How severe is the condition
  • Should I seek another opinion

These questions are important next steps that you should take after getting an abnormal echocardiogram.

Research the Condition 

Your doctor has the echocardiography training to diagnose and treat your condition. It is important for you to understand what is going on inside your body as well. Let’s take a look at some of the possible conditions that may have caused your abnormal echo.

Blood Clots

 Blood clots in the heart occur when blood flows and meets substances like waxy cholesterol in your heart. They can also occur from abnormal blood flow which can cause pooling. Arterial fibrillation and deep vein thrombosis are two causes of clots.

Heart Valve Disease

You have four valves in your heart. The pulmonary, mitral, aortic, and tricuspid. They work by pushing blood through your heart. The following are diseases that cause them to work incorrectly:

  • Valve Stenosis causes valves to become stiff and limits blood flow
  • Valve Regurgitation causes blood to flow in the wrong direction
  • Valve Atresia is a condition that you are born with where you have no valve opening

Pericardial Effusion

You have a sac-like structure surrounding your heart called the pericardium. It can become inflamed causing an abnormal echo by the following:

  • Inflammation post-surgery or after a heart attack
  • Autoimmune disorders like lupus
  • Certain cancers
  • Kidney failure, which can lead to waste in your blood
  • Underactive thyroid gland
  • Certain prescription drugs including blood pressure medication
  • Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections

Additional Testing May Be Needed

In many cases, additional testing is needed to better interpret the results of your abnormal echo. Additional testing will help your doctor understand why your condition is happening and how to treat the condition properly.

Let’s look at what tests you should expect.

Chest X-Ray

The chest x-ray works by helping doctors to visualize your organs, bones, and other areas of your chest. Your doctor will interpret the health and function of your heart by ordering the chest x-ray.

Your doctor may take an x-ray before and then after treatment of your condition has started. This will help them closely monitor changes in your heart after your treatment.

Electrocardiogram Test

This test also called an EKG, measures the electrical activity in your heart. It can be used in conjunction with the echo to better understand your condition.

There are several different types of EKG tests. Your doctor will work with you to decide which test is the best option for you. Some of the types of EKG tests are listed below:

  • Resting EKG
  • Stress test or exercise EKG
  • 24 hour or ambulatory EKG

Cardiac Catheterization 

This procedure is used to determine conditions like coronary artery disease. The test is performed by inserting a thin tube called a catheter into a vein, usually via the groin, and then threading the tube through your blood vessels and into the heart.

Your doctor will keep you awake for the procedure. The doctor will be able to locate blockages, take tissue samples, and check other functions of your heart in this procedure.

Handling an Abnormal Echocardiogram

The echocardiogram is an extremely common test. Remember that stress does not help your heart. Your doctors are trained to help you with this condition!

It is important that you take responsibility for your health sooner rather than later.

Be proactive in communicating with your doctor about the results and about what you can do at home to help your condition. Do not be afraid to ask questions.

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