What is an Echocardiogram

EchocardiogramEchocardiography, also known as an ultrasound of the heart or echo, is a diagnostic test used to create a moving picture of your heart using sound waves. This helps examine the size and shape of the heart, as well as how well different components are functioning. Results of the test are often used to diagnose congenital heart defects, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, aneurysms or other heart conditions. It involves no radiation exposure. You don’t have to stay in the hospital. It is safe, painless, and non-invasive.

How the Test is Performed

A sonographer performs the test and a cardiologist physician interprets the results. Small conducting patches called electrodes, are stuck onto your chest to record your heart rate and rhythm. An instrument called a transducer (similar to a microphone) that releases high-frequency sound waves is placed on your ribs and directed toward the heart. Other images will be taken from other locations on your chest. Pictures seen on the screen may be black and white or color depending on the part of the heart being evaluated. Doppler imaging is used record the motion of blood through the heart and may make sounds for the sonographer to use to improve the quality of the recording. An echocardiogram allows doctors to see the heart beating, to see the heart valves, and other structures of the heart.

How to Prepare for the Test

There is no special preparation required for this test.

What to Expect During the Test

This should be a painless test for most patients. The transducer on the chest may feel slightly uncomfortable for some patients.

Why the Test is Performed

An echocardiogram may be performed for further evaluation of signs or symptoms that may suggest:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Palpitations
  • Heart murmur
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased heart function
  • High blood pressure
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Infections or inflammations involving the heart

There may be other reasons why your health care provider asks for this test.