What is the job of a cardiac sonographer?
Cardiac sonographers, also referred to as echocardiographers, take ultrasounds specific to the heart. They specifically look at the heart vessels, chambers, and valves, as well as how well the heart muscles contact. These professionals perform ultrasounds on patients both while they’re resting or immediately following exercise on a treadmill. Ultrasounds performed during or immediately following physical exertion show whether the patient’s heart is optimally functioning. Cardiac sonographers also initiate IVs in order to administer medication to patients. The medication is typically administered to patients who cannot walk to increase their heart rate as though they were exercising.
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There are a variety of specific tests a cardiac sonographer can perform on a patient.
One test they can perform is a transthorasic echocardiogram (TTE), which involves placing a transducer on the outside of the body, over the heart, in order to obtain an image of the chest cavity. Anytime a clearer picture is needed, a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) may be scheduled. A TEE involves placing a tube with a probe on the end in a sedated patient’s esophagus. The probe is positioned directly over the heart to obtain ultrasound images. TEE echos are also done intraoperatively for valve surgery.
Also, Cardiac sonographers can also administer a bubble study. This study involves agitating a fluid through two syringes and then injecting it into a vein. The purpose of this procedure is to determine if the bubbles created travel across the septum of the heart. This procedure can determine abnormal findings such as the presence of an ASD (atrial septal defect) or PFO (patent foramen ovale). Blood should not be able to move from one atrium to the other without traveling through the normal circulation, in other words not across the septal wall. A bubble study is not a separate “procedure” but can be part of either a TTE or a TEE.
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In addition to these procedures, cardiac sonographers sometimes need to go into the operating room for heart surgery, especially when the surgery involves the heart valves. Due to needing to maintain the sterile field, when patients are having valve surgery a transducer cannot be used on the chest. A probe is used in this case to image the heart valves. In some situations the anesthesiologist performs the cardiac ultrasound in the operating room and in other situations the cardiac sonographer will handle the manipulation of the probe to obtain the images.
What types of patients does a cardiac sonographer see?
Cardiac sonographers see a variety of types of patients. Some common patients include: newborn babies and pediatric patients with congenital heart defects, individuals experiencing chest pain, patients having fainting spells, patients with disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), and those with heart murmurs.