What do heart conditions look like?

During the course of the echocardiogram newsletter series, the information will be displayed in different ways in order to try and best represent the various problems that can be found on echocardiograms.

Some pathologies can be assessed visually such as a valve that prolapses or collapses past where it should cause a leaky valve. This can be seen below as the valve on the left prolapses past the rest line whereas the valve on the right is normal and shuts tight where it should before the red line.

 

A doctor can often hear a murmur (abnormal heart sound) when they put a stethoscope on your chest and listen to your heart. A murmur is most commonly caused by either a leaky valve (as pictured above) or it can also be caused by a stuck valve. Valves can sometimes have calcium deposits form on them, causing a restricted opening. This calcium builds up and can get worse slowly over time.

Below you can see the area of the opening valve coloured in red. The normal valve is opening properly on the right. The stuck valve is on the left with only a small area for blood to pass through.

 

During an echocardiogram, a common question is ‘can we see if there are any blocked arteries’? The short answer is no – the arteries are too small for us to see. Long answer is: if you have a really bad blockage then the muscle that is supplied by that artery will become weak and not squeeze as strongly as its surroundings. This blockage left long enough can cause damage to the heart.

Damage to the heart can be seen below on the right – at the bottom and back side of the heart, compared to a normal contracting heart on the left.

 

If you are having a big heart attack, it may be detectable on an ECG. A common abnormality that can be picked up on an ECG is atrial fibrillation. Instead of an organised 1:1 conduction from the top to the bottom of the heart, the top of the heart will fire from all different points until one signal gets conducted by the bottom of the heart. This causes a swirling effect in the top of the heart where blood isn’t squeezed out efficiently.

On the right is a heart with very large atria (top of the heart) that can be seen in between the red line. Compared to a normal-sized atria in a normal heart on the left.

 

Each month we will go a little more in-depth with each of these topics (and more!) and provide a few more good examples.

If you get an echocardiogram at UQ Healthy Living, ask the cardiac sonographer to show you how beautiful your heart looks on ultrasound.

Don’t forget, a referral from a doctor is required for an echocardiogram. If you have a referral, get in contact with UQ Healthy Living reception to book in.

 

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