Echocardiography is also called an echo test. This test generates moving pictures of the heart using sound waves.
An Echocardiogram helps evaluate various problems with the heart and its function. It gives information about the heart’s structure and blood flow non-invasively.
This test is recommended if a:
- Patient has a heart murmur
- Patient has had a heart attack
- Patient has unexplained chest pains
- Patient has had rheumatic fever
- Patient has a congenital heart defect or valve problem
What is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is a test that uses ultrasound waves to examine the heart. It is a safe and painless procedure that helps doctors diagnose a variety of heart problems.
How does it work?
During the test, a transducer (a small microphone-like device) is held against the chest. The transducer sends ultrasound waves that reflect (echo) off the various parts of the heart.
A computer uses the information coming from the transducer to construct an image of the heart. The image is displayed on a television screen, and it can be recorded digitally, on videotape, or printed on paper.
What Does It Show?
The echocardiogram provides doctors with important information about the heart, such as:
- Size of the heart.The echocardiogram is useful 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 test shows the shape and motion of the heart valves. It can help determine if a valve is narrowed or leaking and can help show how severe the problem is.
- Other uses.The test is also used to detect the presence of fluid around the heart, blood clots or masses inside the heart, and abnormal holes between heart chambers.
What Happens During the Test?
The echocardiogram can be performed in the doctor’s office or at the hospital. No special preparation is necessary for this test.
You will be asked to remove clothing above the waist, and put on a hospital gown or a sheet to help keep you warm and comfortable. You will then lie on a examination table.
Electrodes (small sticky patches) and wires will be attached to your chest and shoulders to record your electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). The ECG shows your heart’s electrical activity during the test.
Next, you will lie on your back or on your left side. To improve the quality of the pictures, a colorless gel is applied to the area of the chest where the transducer will be placed.
A sonographer moves the transducer over the chest, to obtain different views of the heart. He or she may ask you change positions. You may also be asked to breathe slowly or hold your breath in order to obtain a better image.
How Long Does It Take?
A thorough examination usually takes from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on body habitus and type of heart problem.
Is the Echocardiogram Safe?
The echocardiogram is very safe. There are no known risks from the ultrasound waves.
The echocardiogram is also painless, although you may feel slight discomfort when the transducer is held against the chest.
What Are the Benefits?
A major benefit of the echocardiogram is that it gives information about the heart’s structures and blood flow non-invasively.
The information gained from the echocardiogram helps your doctor make an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that’s best for you.
The major limitation is that it is occasionally difficult to obtain good quality images in patients who have broad chests, are obese, or are suffering from chronic lung disease.