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Who Needs Transesophageal Echocardiography?

Doctors may recommend transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) to help diagnose a heart or blood vessel disease or condition. TEE can be used for adults and children.

Doctors also may use TEE to guide cardiac catheterization, help prepare for surgery, or assess a patient's status during or after surgery.

Transesophageal Echocardiography as a Diagnostic Tool

TEE helps doctors detect problems with the structure and function of the heart and its blood vessels.

In general, transthoracic echo (TTE) is the first echo test used to diagnose heart and blood vessel problems. However, you might have TEE if your doctor needs more information or more detailed pictures than TTE can provide.

For TTE, the transducer (the device that sends the sound waves) is placed on the chest, outside of the body. This means the sound waves may not always have a clear path to the heart and blood vessels. For example, obesity, scarring from previous heart surgery, or certain lung problems (such as a collapsed lung) may block the sound waves.

For TEE, the transducer is at the tip of a flexible tube (probe). Your doctor will guide the probe down your throat and into your esophagus (the passage leading from your mouth to your stomach).

This approach allows your doctor to get more detailed pictures of your heart because the esophagus is directly behind the heart.

Doctors may use TEE to help diagnose:

TEE also can show blood clots that may have caused a stroke or that may affect treatment for atrial fibrillation, a type of arrhythmia.

Transesophageal Echocardiography and Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a medical procedure used to diagnose and/or treat certain heart conditions. During this procedure, a long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in your arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck and threaded to your heart.

Doctors may use TEE to help guide the catheter while they're doing the procedure.

Through the catheter, doctors can do tests and treatments on your heart. For example, cardiac catheterization might be used to repair holes in the heart, heart valve disease, and abnormal heart rhythms.

Transesophageal Echocardiography and Surgery

Doctors may use TEE to prepare for a patient's surgery and identify possible risks. For example, they may use TEE to look for possible sources of blood clots in the heart or aorta. Blood clots can cause a stroke during surgery.

TEE might be used in the operating room after a patient receives medicine to make him or her sleep during the surgery. The test can show the heart's structure and function and help guide the surgery.

TEE also helps doctors assess a patient's status during surgery. For example, TEE can help check for blood flow and blood pressure problems.

At the end of surgery, TEE might be used again to check how well the surgery worked. For example, TEE can show whether heart valves are working well. TEE also can show how well the heart is pumping.

People having surgery that isn't related to the heart also may have TEE to check their heart function if they have known heart disease or a critical illness.

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March 07, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.