An echocardiogram is the primary diagnostic tool used for tricuspid regurgitation. Also called a diagnostic cardiac ultrasound, this test uses ultrasound technology to produce images of your heart’s structure and overall function.

Tricuspid regurgitation (TR) is a condition involving a leak in the tricuspid valve in your heart. An estimated 0.9% of people in the United States have this condition.

Located on the right side of your heart, the tricuspid valve sits between your right ventricle and your right atrium. TR may develop when blood leaks back through the valve and into the right atrium whenever the right ventricle contracts.

While TR is considered a common heart valve problem, it can prevent blood from flowing to the rest of your body. This may lead to potentially serious complications such as heart failure. For these reasons, early diagnosis and management are key to treating TR.

Learn more about the importance of echocardiogram testing in TR and consider discussing with a doctor the following information about TR symptoms, diagnosis, and management.

TR is considered the most common right heart valve problem, and it mostly occurs in adults.

If a doctor suspects that you have a heart valve problem, they may order an echocardiogram, or “echo.” This imaging procedure uses sound waves via ultrasound technology to produce pictures of your heart. It’s the primary diagnostic tool used for TR.

In addition to images of your overall heart, an echo can produce detailed images of your valves, blood vessels, and heart tissues. This technology can even help a doctor identify problems with your tricuspid valve and signs that blood is leaking backward.

Additionally, an echo can precisely measure blood flow regurgitation and the pressure of blood flow out of your heart’s right ventricle.

With the help of an echo, a doctor can classify the severity of TR from mild to severe. Severe TR is typically diagnosed if the ventricle diameter is 0.7 centimeters or more.

An echocardiogram isn’t a direct treatment for TR. Instead, doctors use it to help find out whether your current treatment plan is working.

Treatment for TR depends on its severity. If you have a mild, asymptomatic case, you may not need treatment at first. A doctor may instead monitor your condition by testing regularly with echocardiograms.

More severe cases of TR may require medications or surgery. In such cases, regular echocardiograms can help determine whether treatment is working to help manage valve problems.

An echocardiogram requires little preparation and doesn’t cause any pain or side effects. Here’s what you can expect before, during, and after an echo for TR.

Before the procedure

An echocardiogram may be performed in any medical setting, such as a clinic, a hospital room, or a primary care doctor’s or cardiologist’s office. Here’s how you will prepare for the procedure:

  1. A technician will explain the purpose of the test.
  2. They will ask you to take off your shirt and lie back on the exam table.
  3. They will place several round devices called electrodes along your chest. These are connected to an electrocardiogram machine, which measures your heart rate during the test.

During the procedure

Here’s what will happen during an echo procedure for TR:

  1. The technician will darken the room so they can see the ultrasound monitor.
  2. They’ll place a special gel on your chest that allows sound waves to pass through the ultrasound probe (called a transducer).
  3. The technician will place the transducer on your skin and slowly move it across your chest so the resulting sound waves can translate into images.
  4. The pictures will be displayed on a monitor for your doctor to review. Your doctor will specifically look for issues with your tricuspid valve and signs of regurgitation.

After the procedure

Here’s what will happen afterward:

  1. The technician will carefully remove the electrodes from your chest and wipe off any residue from the gel.
  2. You will be able to sit up on the table and put your shirt back on.
  3. A doctor will look at the images from the echocardiogram and discuss the results with you.

In all, the procedure takes no longer than 1 hour.

Aside from echocardiography, other tests that doctors may use to help diagnose TR or detect heart valve problems include:

  • Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE): Unlike a traditional echo, TEE involves obtaining images of your heart with the help of a tube that is inserted through your mouth and into your esophagus. This may be recommended in place of a standard echocardiogram if a doctor needs to see more detailed images of your heart.
  • Chest X-ray: An X-ray helps provide images of your heart. If you have TR, these images may reveal an enlarged lower heart chamber.
  • CT scan: This imaging test uses multiple X-rays to capture detailed pictures of your heart, including the valves. While it shouldn’t replace an echo, a CT scan may complement an echocardiogram by revealing the severity of regurgitation.
  • Cardiac MRI: A cardiac MRI is an imaging test that may be used to determine the severity of TR and to find out how much blood your heart is pumping to the rest of your body.
  • Cardiac catheterization: Considered a minimally invasive procedure, cardiac catheterization may help reveal problems with leaky heart valves. Doctors may also order this test if other tests for TR are inconclusive.
  • Liver function tests: People with TR may also have abnormal liver function.

As TR progresses, parts of your body may not receive enough oxygen-rich blood from your heart. Possible signs and symptoms of TR include:

  • unexplained fatigue or weakness
  • swelling in your legs and feet
  • abdominal swelling
  • noticeable pulsing in the veins of your neck
  • an enlarged liver
  • gastrointestinal issues such as indigestion

TR might not cause noticeable symptoms, especially when it’s mild. The condition might present as fatigue or weakness, which you might not attribute to a heart valve problem right away since these symptoms may also be associated with other conditions.

Regular screenings, such as annual physical exams, are important to help a doctor detect potential heart valve problems.

However, if you’re currently experiencing any possible symptoms of TR, such as unexplained fatigue or swelling of your abdomen or legs, consider making an appointment with a doctor.

You might also consider contacting a doctor if you’re experiencing unusual symptoms and you have or previously had certain risk factors for TR, such as:

While the overall outlook for TR is considered positive, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and possible treatment to help prevent further heart complications.

Because it can produce sound wave imagery of internal heart structures and blood flow, an echocardiogram remains a first-line diagnostic test for TR. It can also help determine whether your treatment is working.

If you’re concerned about possible TR symptoms or risk factors, consider speaking with a doctor about testing options.