A transesophageal echocardiography is a special type of echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart). The test uses a special echocardiography transducer (ultrasound camera) that is inserted through the patient’s mouth, through the back of the throat, and into the esophagus or feeding tube between the mouth and stomach.

There are two main advantages of this type of echocardiogram. First, it allows the cardiologist to get a much better look at some of the heart structures, including the wall between the two top chambers of the heart and heart valves. This is possible because the esophagus and stomach are very close to the heart, which often allows the cardiologist to obtain more detailed pictures of the heart during this procedure, as compared to routine echocardiograms performed from the chest wall. Second, it allows the cardiologist to obtain images of the heart while heart procedures (surgery and cardiac catheterization) are in progress, without having a camera in the way of the procedure.

The procedure typically lasts 20 – 40 minutes, but the total procedure time allotted (with sedation) is usually 60 to 90 minutes. The procedure is very safe and your doctor will discuss the risks with you and give you an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns prior to the procedure. It’s very common for patients to return to normal activity within 24 hours after the procedure.

Your doctor may recommend a transesophageal echocardiogram for a number of reasons, including:
  • To provide additional information during heart surgery or cardiac catheterization
  • Trying to find a possible reason for a stroke
  • Searching for a small hole between the upper chambers of the heart (a regular echocardiogram may not detect)
  • In children with abnormally fast heart rhythms, checking for blood clots in the heart
  • Looking for infections in the heart
  • Checking to make sure that artificial valves are working properly
  • Making sure that the wall of the aorta is not damaged

Some conditions may result in the cardiologist recommending against transesophageal echocardiography (especially in conditions which result in the severe narrowing of the esophagus or stomach).