Echocardiography (ECHO)

What is Echocardiography?

An echocardiogram is a noninvasive, risk-free test that uses ultrasound waves to assess cardiac structure and mobility, particularly of the valves. During the test, a small transducer is held against the chest. The transducer sends ultrasound waves that bounce off parts of the heart. A computer uses the information coming from the transducer to make an image of the heart. The image is displayed on a monitor, and it can be recorded on videotape or printed on paper.

The echocardiogram usually combines three different techniques. The M-mode echo produces an image that looks more like a tracing than a heart (as shown in image at left). The M-mode echo helps measure the size of the heart chambers.

The two-dimensional (2-D) echo shows the actual shape and motion of the different heart structures. The images represent "slices" of the heart in motion.

The Doppler echo allows doctors to assess the flow of blood through the heart. You may hear a swooshing or pulsating sound with this test. This is not the actual sound of your heart, but an amplified computerized audio signal.

How do I prepare for the procedure?

There is no special preparation for echocardiography. You may eat and go about your normal activities, unless you are told otherwise. Make sure you wear a two-piece outfit because you will be instructed to undress from the waist up and wear a hospital gown.

What happens during the procedure?

You will lie on a hospital stretcher. Electrodes (small sticky patches) are placed on the chest and shoulders to monitor the heartbeat. You will need to lie quietly during the test on your left side with your head elevated slightly. An odorless water-soluble gel is applied to the chest. An Echo Tech moves the transducer over the chest to obtain different views of your heart. You may be asked to change positions and to exhale or hold your breath for a few seconds. The images are recorded on videotape and printed on paper. The Echo Tech is not authorized to give you your results. The doctor will either be present during the test, or you may be able to get the results before you leave. Otherwise, your doctor will discuss the results with you during an office visit.

Why is the Echo done?

The echocardiogram gives doctors information about the heart, such as:

  • Size of the heart - The echo is used for measuring the size of the heart chambers and thickness of the heart muscle.
  • Pumping strength - The test shows whether the heart is pumping at full strength or is weakened. It can also help determine whether the various parts of the heart pump equally.
  • Valve problems - The echo shows the shape and motion of the heart valves. It can help determine if a valve is narrowed or leaking and shows how severe the valve problem is.
  • Other uses - The echo may be used to detect the presence of fluid around the heart, blood clots, or masses inside the heart, and abnormal holes between heart chambers. Sometimes, the echo is combined with an exercise or dobutamine stress test to see how well the heart pumps when it is accelerated.

Where is the test performed?

Generally done in the Non-Invasive Cardiology Testing Center

How long does this test take?

The test is painless and takes 20 to 45 minutes to complete.