Echocardiography

Combines structural as well as dynamic assessment of the heart using ultrasound reflected off various interfaces. Transthoracic or transoesophageal probes provide information on valve integrity, global (diastolic and systolic) and regional ventricular function, wall thickness, pericardial fluid or thickening, aortic dissection, ventricular volumes and ejection fraction, and pulmonary pressures. Often combined with integral Doppler ultrasound for cardiac output estimation derived from combined measurement of aortic diameter plus flow at various sites, e.g. left ventricular outflow tract, aorta, transmitral. Analytic software or formulae can also enable computation of cardiac output from estimations of ventricular volumes.

Advantages

Non-invasive, safe, relatively quick. Provides other useful information on cardiac structure and function.

Disadvantages

Expensive equipment, lengthy learning curve and interobserver variability. Body habitus or pathology (e.g. emphysema) may impair image quality.

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