Congenital heart disease can refer to a number of different problems affecting the heart, including Hypoplastic Heart. According to the American Heart Association, around 35,000 babies are born each year with some type of congenital heart defect.
Congenital heart disease is responsible for more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defects. Many of these defects need to be followed carefully, and while some heal over time, others will require treatment.
Congenital heart disease can be divided into two types: cyanotic (meaning a blue discoloration caused by a relative lack of oxygen) and non-cyanotic. Hypoplastic right heart and hypoplastic left heart are both of the cyanotic type.
An echocardiogram, also known as Doppler ultrasound, or more technically, transthoracic echocardiogram, is a diagnostic test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart. The picture is much more detailed than x-ray image and involves no radiation exposure.
Standard non-invasive testing methods, such as x-ray radiography and electrocardiography offer useful information for doctors when diagnosing hypoplastic heart conditions, but ultrasound is even less invasive, which is a big factor when risks to a new-born are considered.
How the Test is Done
A trained sonographer performs the procedure, and then a heart doctor interprets the results. A device which transmits high-frequency sound waves called a transducer is placed on the patients ribs near the breast bone and directed toward the heart. The transducer picks up the echoes of the sound waves and transmits them as electrical impulses. The echocardiography machine converts these impulses into moving pictures of the heart.
Heart ultrasound tests work well for most patients and allow doctors to see the heart beating and to visualize many of the structures of the heart. Occasionally, lungs, ribs, or body tissue may prevent the sound waves and echoes from providing a clear picture of heart function. If so, the sonographer may inject a small amount of contrast agent, through an IV to better see the inside of the heart. More invasive testing using special echocardiography probes may be necessary, but only rarely.