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A transesophageal echocardiogram, or TEE (TOE in the United Kingdom, reflecting the spelling transoesophageal), is an alternative way to perform an echocardiogram. A specialized probe containing an ultrasound transducer at its tip is passed into the patient's esophagus. This allows image and Doppler evaluation which can be recorded.
It has several advantages and some disadvantages compared to a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE).
Specialty medicine professional organizations recommend against using transesophageal echocardiography to detect cardiac sources of embolization after a patient's health care provider has identified a source of embolization and if that person would not change a patient's management as a result of getting more information. Such organizations further recommend that doctors and patients should avoid seeking transesophageal echocardiography only for the sake of protocol-driven testing and to agree to the test only if it is right for the individual patient.
The advantage of TEE over TTE is usually clearer images, especially of structures that are difficult to view transthoracicly (through the chest wall). The explanation for this is that the heart rests directly upon the esophagus leaving only millimeters that the ultrasound beam has to travel. This reduces the attenuation (weakening) of the ultrasound signal, generating a stronger return signal, ultimately enhancing image and Doppler quality. Comparatively, transthoracic ultrasound must first traverse skin, fat, ribs and lungs before reflecting off the heart and back to the probe before an image can be created. All these structures, along with the increased distance the beam must travel, weaken the ultrasound signal thus degrading the image and Doppler quality.
In adults, several structures can be evaluated and imaged better with the TEE, including the aorta, pulmonary artery, valves of the heart, both atria, atrial septum, left atrial appendage, and coronary arteries. TEE has a very high sensitivity for locating a blood clot inside the left atrium.
Before inserting the probe, mild to moderate sedation is induced in the patient to ease the discomfort and to decrease the gag reflex, thus making the ultrasound probe easier to pass into the esophagus. Mild or moderate sedation can be induced with medications such as midazolam (a benzodiazepine with sedating, amnesiac qualities), fentanyl (an opioid), or propofol (a sedative/general anesthetic, depending on dosage) . Usually a local anesthetic spray is used for the back of the throat, such a xylocaine and/or a jelly/lubricant anesthetic for the esophagus. Children are anesthetized. Unlike the TTE, the TEE is considered an invasive procedure and is thus performed by physicians in the U.S., not sonographers.
In addition to use by cardiologists in outpatient and inpatient settings, TEE can be performed by a cardiac anesthesiologist to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients in the peri-operative period. Most commonly used during open heart procedures, it can be used in the setting of any operation if the patient's status warrants it. It is a definitive way to diagnose.
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