Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) is a diagnostic test in which an endoscope with an ultrasound transducer at its tip is inserted into the patient's esophagus by means of a catheter (thin tube). Sound waves are transmitted and received by the transducer to produce a clear image of the heart muscle and other parts of the heart.
Since the esophagus is located directly behind the heart, transesophageal echocardiography provides a very clear image of the heart. It can provide information on the size of the heart, its pumping strength, and the location and extent of any damage to its tissues. TEE can also detect the presence of abnormal tissue growth around the heart valves. It is useful for identifying abnormalities in the pattern of blood flow, such as the backward flow of blood through partly closed heart valves (regurgitation). TEE is especially useful in cases in which conventional echocardiography (a test in which the transducer is moved across the patient's chest) cannot offer a good image, as when the patient is obese or has a thick chest wall. TEE is also used to monitor heart function during cardiac surgery; to detect blood clots in the left atrium of the heart; and to diagnose infections in pacemaker lead infections.
The convenience, safety, and promptness of TEE make it the diagnostic procedure of choice in patients suspected of aortic dissection, especially those who are in unstable condition. TEE can also be used for long-term follow-up of these patients.
Jennifer E. Sisk M.A., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,