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Thoracic Aortic Disease (TAD) - How is it Found? Looking Inside the Chest It is necessary to "see" inside the chest in order to check on the aorta there. Today's imaging technology makes this possible. There are tests that can be done which will show the aorta and whether or not it is enlarged or dissected. The test images should be of high quality and should be reviewed by aortic specialists, skilled in aortic measurement. Echocardiogram One test that may show part of the aorta is an echocardiogram. It uses sound waves to produce images of the heart, its valves, and may also show the root and ascending aorta. However, the most common form of this test (transthoracic echocardiogram or TTE) is done with a wand passed over the outside of the chest. This wand "sees" only a small area at a time, and this test is very dependent on how it is done. When an echocardiogram detects aortic enlargement, another test may be done to more precisely look at the entire aorta. A tranesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) has a much better ability to reveal most of the thoracic aorta, and is an excellent tool to evaluate the heart's valves and chambers. However, it is invasive and requires sedation. CT and MRI Either a CT scan or an MRI gives the most accurate image of the entire aorta. Both of these tests are done with contrast, which is given intravenously. A CT scan uses x-rays to produce its images. An MRI uses a magnetic field. In the case of dissection, which usually occurs suddenly with great pain, the fastest way to get an image of the aorta is the CT scan.
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