An echocardiogram (also called an echo) is a type of ultrasound test that uses high-pitched sound waves that are sent through a device called a transducer. The device picks up echoes of the sound waves as they bounce off the different parts of your heart. These echoes are turned into moving pictures of your heart that can be seen on a video screen.
Why the test is done:
- Look for the cause of abnormal heart sounds (murmurs or clicks), an enlarged heart, unexplained chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, or irregular heartbeats.
- Check the thickness and movement of the heart wall.
- Look at the heart valves and check how well they work.
- See how well an artificial heart valve is working.
- Measure the size and shape of the heart’s chambers.
- Check the ability of your heart chambers to pump blood (cardiac performance). During an echocardiogram, your doctor can calculate how much blood your heart is pumping during each heartbeat (ejection fraction). You might have a low ejection fraction if you have heart failure.
- Detect a disease that affects the heart muscle and the way it pumps, such as cardiomyopathy.
- Look for blood clots and tumors inside the heart.
- Look for congenital heart defects or to check the effectiveness of previous surgery to repair a congenital heart defect.
- Check how well your heart works after a heart attack.
- Identify the specific cause of heart failure.
- Look for a collection of fluid around the heart (pericardial effusion ).
- Look for a thickening of the lining (pericardium) around the heart.
How it is done:
An echocardiogram may be done in a hospital, clinic, mobile health clinic or doctor’s office. It can also be done at your bedside in the hospital.
You will need to remove any jewelry and clothes above your waist (you may be allowed to keep on your underwear if it does not interfere with the test). You may be given a cloth or paper covering to use during the test.
A transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE), Doppler echocardiogram, and stress echocardiogram are performed by a specially trained ultrasound technician. A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) is performed by a cardiologist with the help of assistants.
You may receive an IV so you can get medicine during the test. The IV can be used to give you a contrast material, which helps your doctor check your heart function. A contrast material may be used if it is difficult to get good views of your heart. A good view might be hard to get because of certain conditions such as obesity or chronic lung disease.