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Colchester: Ultrasound equipment that can take 3D images of the heart is installed at Colchester General Hospital

PUBLISHED: 16:10 15 February 2014 | UPDATED: 16:10 15 February 2014

Colchester Hospital staff with the new echocardiography machines.

Colchester Hospital staff with the new echocardiography machines.

Archant

Heart patients in north east Essex who need special diagnostic treatment no longer have to travel to the south of the county thanks to the introduction of a new service at Colchester General Hospital.

Left -  2D views of the intra-atrial septum  of the heart. Right -  a 3D view. Left - 2D views of the intra-atrial septum of the heart. Right - a 3D view.

As part of a £250,000 investment in ultrasound equipment, cardiologists at the hospital can for the first time take 3D images of the heart, made possible by a £20,000 3D probe that is passed through the mouth into the gullet, giving doctors a better view.

Previously, patients from north east Essex needing this procedure had to travel to the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre at Basildon Hospital.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Allan Harkness said: “The ability to take a 3D picture of the heart from the gullet is a dramatic improvement.

“It allows the cardiologist to create an image of the heart moving in real time that looks very similar to the view the surgeon has when operating.

“Such views make assessing heart problems much easier and conveying difficult problems more reliable than before.

“The surgeon has more confidence that the problem he sees on the ultrasound will be the problem he finds during surgery. This makes explaining the planned operation to the patient more straightforward.”

Standard ultrasound of the heart takes pictures from a probe placed on the chest.

While good pictures can be taken, some of the most complex parts of the heart, such as the valves, are deep inside and clear images can sometimes be difficult to obtain.

However, passing the 3D probe into the gullet, which lies just a few millimetres from the back of the heart, results in excellent images.

The 3D probe is about as thick as an average man’s finger and is swallowed by a patient after sedation, and spends 20-30 minutes in the gullet.

One of the first patients to benefit from the new service is Ted Wrenn, aged 70, of St Andrew’s Avenue, Colchester, who was referred to Colchester General Hospital after experiencing breathlessness.

“What patients want is as many services as possible to be provided at their local hospital,” he said. “The more that can be done locally, the better it is.”

As well as the 3D probe, Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Colchester General Hospital, has invested in six new echocardiography machines, which use ultrasound to diagnose heart problems.

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