An echocardiogram (echo) is a graphic outline of the heart’s movement. During an echo test, ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) from a hand-held wand placed on your chest provides pictures of the heart’s valves and chambers and helps the sonographer evaluate the pumping action of the heart. Echo is often combined with Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to evaluate blood flow across the heart’s valves.
What is an echocardiogram?
The test is used to:
- Assess the overall function of your heart
- Determine the presence of many types of heart disease, such as valve disease, myocardial disease, pericardial disease, infective endocarditis, cardiac masses and congenital heart disease
- Follow the progress of valve disease over time, such as valvular disease or muscle function
- Evaluate the effectiveness of your surgical treatments, such as valves
What happens during the test?
- Before the test, the health care provider will explain the procedure in detail, including possible complications and side effects. You will have the opportunity to ask questions.
- A cardiac sonographer will place three electrodes (small, flat, sticky patches) on your chest. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph (EKG) monitor that charts your heart’s electrical activity during the test.
- The sonographer will ask you to lie on your left side on an exam table. The sonographer will place a wand (called a sound-wave transducer) on several areas of your chest. The wand will have a small amount of gel on the end, which will not harm your skin. This gel helps produce clearer pictures.
- Sounds are part of the Doppler signal. You may or may not hear the sounds during the test.
- You may be asked to change positions several times during the exam so the sonographer can take pictures of different areas of the heart. You may also be asked to hold your breath at times.
- During a very specialized test to assess your heart for a congenital defects (PFO or ASD), saline maybe injected into one of your arm veins.
How will I feel during the test?
You should feel no major discomfort during the test. You may feel a coolness on your skin from the gel on the transducer, and a slight pressure of the transducer on your chest.
How long does the test take?
The appointment will take about 40 minutes. After the test, you may get dressed and go home or go to your other scheduled appointments.
Is there any preparation for the test?
There is no preparation for your echocardiogram. Take all of your medications at the usual times, as prescribed by your doctor. You may wear anything you like. You may also eat before this exam if you would like.