What is an echocardiogram?

  • An echocardiogram, also known as an echo or echocardiography of cardiac ultrasound, is a diagnostic test that uses ultrasound sound waves to take pictures of your heart.
  • An echocardiogram is safe, painless, and there are no side effects from the test.
  • Your doctor may recommend an echocardiogram to evaluate the structure and function of your heart.
  • You will not have to do anything to prepare for an echocardiogram. You can follow your regular daily routine.
  • During the test, your technician will run a transducer back and forth across your chest to collect sound waves. Images created from the sound waves will be sent to a video monitor where your doctor can review them.
  • The test lasts approximately one hour. If your doctor finds anything abnormal in your results, he or she will order additional tests.

Why is an echo done?

Your doctor may recommend an echo to look at your heart’s structure and determine how well your heart works.

Your doctor will evaluate the following:

  • The size and shape of your heart.
  • The thickness and size of your heart’s walls.
  • How strong your heart can pump blood.
  • How well your heart moves.
  • How well your heart valves are working.
  • Determine if blood is leaking backward through the heart valves or if the heart valves are too narrow.
  • Determine if you have a tumor or other abnormality around the heart.
  • If you have any abnormalities in the heart’s outer lining or in the large blood vessels that enter and leave the heart.
  • Determine if you have any blood clots in your heart or abnormal holes between the heart’s chambers.

How to prepare for an echo?

There are no special preparations before an echocardiogram. You are free to follow your normal day-to-day routine.

What happens during an echo?

A trained technician will perform your echocardiogram. It may be performed in an emergency room, operating room, or your doctor’s clinic office.

During the test:

  • You will lie down on a table while a technician places electrodes on your chest. The electrodes will connect to the electrocardiograph machine, which will track your heart rate during the test.
  • A gel is placed on your chest so the sound waves can pass through the skin.
  • You will be asked to hold your breath to ensure your technician gets high-quality images.
  • A transducer is moved back and forth across the chest to collect the sound waves bouncing off the heart.
  • Pictures are produced from the sound waves and sent to the video monitor.
  • Your doctor will review the images to determine what is causing your symptoms.

How long does an echo take to preform?

An echocardiogram takes approximately one hour. In most cases, you can resume your day-to-day activities after the test.

What are the results of an echo?

If your results are normal, you may not need any additional testing. If your doctor finds an abnormality, you may need additional tests.

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