What Is a Doppler Echocardiogram?

C. Webb

A Doppler echocardiogram is a medical test used to determine blood flow and speed to and from the heart. The Doppler technique uses high-frequency ultrasound to produce a color-enhanced image of the heart. Contrast dye can be introduced to the heart chambers to determine blood velocity if needed for medical determinations. Velocity results through a Doppler echocardiogram are also used to compare blood flow from the right and left chambers and locate heart valve leakage, if present.

A Doppler echocardiogram uses high frequency sound waves that are transmitted into the heart to detect its shape, size, and motion.
A Doppler echocardiogram uses high frequency sound waves that are transmitted into the heart to detect its shape, size, and motion.

Conditions that can be discovered through a Doppler echocardiogram include valve insufficiency, stenosis hardening of arteries, and arterial blockages. Insufficient or abnormal blood flow to and from the heart can also be detected by the procedure. The test is not confined to diagnostic use, but is also employed to measure disease progress. For example, it can detect changes in a normally benign condition called mitral valve prolapse by detecting increased back flow or leakage into the valve, which can require surgery. Various conditions may require further tests following the Doppler echocardiogram.

A Doppler echocardiogram can be performed in a hospital, doctor's office, or medical testing facility. The machine is small and portable and is typically mounted on a small table with wheels to allow it to be pushed from room to room. Room lights are dimmed while the test is performed. This allows the technician a better visual as he or she guides the ultrasound wand over the heart and valve area. Patients are not exposed to any radiation during a Doppler echocardiogram.

The test is performed by a trained medical technician and read by a radiologist; results are then sent to the ordering cardiologist. Preparation for the test is simple. Patients are asked to allow approximately an hour for the procedure. They should continue their regular medications unless the doctor tells them to do otherwise, due to additional testing being scheduled before or after the Doppler echocardiogram. Patients are often asked to arrive about 15 minutes before the test to fill out paperwork and provide insurance information.

Aftercare is not necessary following a Doppler echocardiogram. Patients return to normal activities immediately, unless told not to by their doctor, due to suspected heart disease. Results of a Doppler echocardiogram generally take about 48 hours to receive over the phone or during a follow-up exam. A Doppler echocradiogram that indicates a medical condition usually triggers a follow-up appointment, further testing, and a treatment plan.

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