Like a regular echocardiogram a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) uses ultrasound waves to take pictures of the pumping heart. The more detailed images of the heart's valves and chambers provided by the TEE are obtained by a cardiologist passing an ultrasound probe attached to a long flexible tube through the esophagus (food pipe). This method of visualizing the heart's structures ensures clear views, unobstructed by the ribs or lungs.
During the Procedure
You will be hooked up to several monitoring devices, including an electrocardiograph. For adults, an anesthetic throat spray and light sedation are generally sufficient for minimizing discomfort. You will be asked to lie on your left side, as the cardiologist gently slides the lubricated endoscope down your throat. You may be asked to swallow to help move the tube along. This part of the test may feel uncomfortable but only lasts a few seconds. The scope does not interfere with your breathing. Once the tube is in place, your heart will be photographed from different angles. You will feel very drowsy and should remain comfortable for the rest of the test. The entire exam usually takes about 90 minutes.
After the Procedure
Nurses will monitor your vital signs for an hour or two as the sedative wears off. You may experience a mild sore throat. Serious complications, such as excessive bleeding and inflammation, are uncommon. Although the aftereffects of the sedative may not be apparent to you, you cannot drive yourself home.