What is Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of your heart. This commonly used test allows your doctor to see your heart beating and pumping blood. Your doctor can use the images from an echocardiogram to identify heart disease.
Depending on what information your doctor needs, you may have one of several types of echocardiograms. Each type of echocardiogram has few, if any, risks involved.
Why is Echocardiogram performed?
Your doctor may use an echo test to look at your heart’s structure and check how well your heart functions.
The test helps your doctor find out:
- The size and shape of your heart, and the size, thickness and movement of your heart’s walls.
- How your heart moves.
- The heart’s pumping strength.
- If the heart valves are working correctly.
- If blood is leaking backwards through your heart valves (regurgitation).
- If the heart valves are too narrow (stenosis).
- If there is a tumor or infectious growth around your heart valves.
The test also will help your doctor find out if there are:
- Problems with the outer lining of your heart (the pericardium).
- Problems with the large blood vessels that enter and leave the heart.
- Blood clots in the chambers of your heart.
- Abnormal holes between the chambers of the heart.
Your doctor may order an echocardiogram for several reasons. For example, they may have discovered an abnormality from other testing or while listening to your heartbeat through a stethoscope. If you have an irregular heartbeat, your doctor may want to inspect the heart valves or chambers or check your heart’s ability to pump. They may also order one if you’re showing signs of heart problems, such as chest pain or shortness of breath.
What should I know before receiving Echocardiogram?
There are no risks involved in a standard transthoracic echocardiogram. Serious complications, such as a heart attack, are rare.
In a standard transthoracic echocardiogram, you may feel some discomfort similar to pulling off an adhesive bandage when the technician removes the electrodes placed on your chest during the procedure.
If you have a transesophageal echocardiogram, your throat may be sore for a few hours afterward. Rarely, the tube may scrape the inside of your throat. Your oxygen level will be monitored during the exam to check for any breathing problems caused by sedation medication.
During a stress echocardiogram, exercise or medication — not the echocardiogram itself — may temporarily cause an irregular heartbeat.
How to prepare for Echocardiogram?
No special preparations are necessary for a standard transthoracic echocardiogram. You can eat, drink and take medications as you normally would.
Your doctor will ask you not to eat for a few hours beforehand if you’re having a transesophageal or stress echocardiogram. If you have trouble swallowing, let your doctor know, as this may affect his or her decision to order a transesophageal echocardiogram.
If you’ll be walking on a treadmill during a stress echocardiogram, wear comfortable shoes. If you’re having a transesophageal echocardiogram, you won’t be able to drive afterward because of the sedating medication you’ll likely receive. Before you have your transesophageal echocardiogram, be sure to make arrangements to get home.
What happens during Echocardiogram?
Most echocardiograms take less than an hour, but the timing may vary depending on your condition.
An echocardiogram can be done in the doctor’s office or a hospital. After undressing from the waist up, you’ll lie on an examination table or bed. The technician will attach sticky patches (electrodes) to your body to help detect and conduct the electrical currents of your heart.
During the echocardiogram, the technician will dim the lights to better view the image on the monitor. The technician will apply a special gel to your chest that improves the conduction of sound waves and eliminates air between your skin and the transducer — a small, plastic device that sends out sound waves and receives those that bounce back.
The technician will move the transducer back and forth over your chest. The sound waves create images of your heart on a monitor, which are recorded for your doctor to review. You may hear a pulsing “whoosh,” which is the ultrasound recording the blood flowing through your heart.
If you have a transesophageal echocardiogram, your throat will be numbed with a numbing spray or gel to make inserting the transducer into your esophagus more comfortable. You’ll likely be given a sedative to help you relax.
During a transthoracic echocardiogram, you may be asked to breathe in a certain way or to roll onto your left side. Sometimes the transducer must be held very firmly against your chest. This can be uncomfortable — but it helps the technician produce the best images of your heart.
What happens after Echocardiogram?
If your echocardiogram is normal, no further testing may be needed. If the results are concerning, you may be referred to a doctor trained in heart conditions (cardiologist) for more tests.
Treatment depends on what’s found during the exam and your specific signs and symptoms. You may need a repeat echocardiogram in several months or other diagnostic tests, such as a cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan or coronary angiogram.
If you have any questions about the Echocardiogram, please consult with your doctor to better understand your instructions.
Explanation of results
What do my results mean?
Your doctor will look for healthy heart valves and chambers, as well as normal heartbeats. Information from the echocardiogram may show:
- Heart size. Weakened or damaged heart valves, high blood pressure, or other diseases can cause the chambers of your heart to enlarge or the walls of your heart to be abnormally thickened. Your doctor can use an echocardiogram to evaluate the need for treatment or monitor treatment effectiveness.
- Pumping strength. An echocardiogram can help your doctor determine your heart’s pumping strength. Specific measurements may include the percentage of blood that’s pumped out of a filled ventricle with each heartbeat (ejection fraction) or the volume of blood pumped by the heart in one minute (cardiac output). If your heart isn’t pumping enough blood to meet your body’s needs, this could result in heart failure.
- Damage to the heart muscle. During an echocardiogram, your doctor can determine whether all parts of the heart wall are contributing normally to your heart’s pumping activity. Parts that move weakly may have been damaged during a heart attack or be receiving too little oxygen. This may indicate coronary artery disease or various other conditions.
- Valve problems. An echocardiogram shows how your heart valves move as your heart beats. Your doctor can determine if the valves open wide enough for adequate blood flow or close fully to prevent blood leakage.
- Heart defects. Many heart defects can be detected with an echocardiogram, including problems with the heart chambers, abnormal connections between the heart and major blood vessels, and complex heart defects that are present at birth. Echocardiograms can even be used to monitor a baby’s heart development before birth.
Depending on the laboratory and hospital, the normal range for Echocardiogram may vary. Please discuss with your doctor any questions you may have about your test results.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: October 12, 2018 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019
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