An echocardiogram (echo) is a graphic outline of the heart's movement. During an echo test, ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) from a hand-held wand placed on your chest provides pictures of the heart's valves and chambers and helps the sonographer evaluate the pumping action of the heart. Echo is often combined with Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to evaluate blood flow across the heart's valves.
An echocardiogram is an important investigation for anyone with suspected heart failure, heart valve problems or cardiomyopathy. It can help your doctor make an early diagnosis. You might be referred for an echocardiogram if you have suspected heart valve disease, for example because of symptoms such as breathlessness and/or a heart murmur (an unusual sound in your heartbeat). This test is also used to diagnose patients with inherited heart disease, including cardiomyopathy.
It uses ultrasound scanning to give a picture of your heart. It is cost-effective and safe.
There are three main areas for its use: diagnosis, prognosis and follow up. At any of these points, it can provide measures of heart function, including an ejection fraction (the amount of blood pumped out of the heart with each heartbeat – a ‘normal’ level is around 55 per cent). This helps to establish how severe the problem is and the likely prognosis, which then help your doctor decide on appropriate treatment options.
Follow up is very important and must be done once or twice yearly for heart failure and valve disease patients to see how they are responding to their medication and/or device (such as a pacemaker or ICD).
if you undergo a transesophageal echocardiogram, your doctor may instruct you not to eat anything for a few hours before the test. This is to prevent you from vomiting during the test. You may also not be able to drive for a few hours afterward due to the sedatives.
If your doctor has ordered a stress echocardiogram, wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable to exercise in.
A transthoracic echo (TTE), the most common type, involves the patient taking their clothes off from the waist up, lying on a couch on their left side and an ultrasound probe being placed on the chest and abdomen to take images.
This echocardiogram can be done as a full scan or a focal scan. A full scan takes 40–45 minutes and gives a complete assessment of the size and function of all heart structures. The British Society of Echocardiography recently introduced focal scans. This lasts 20–25 minutes. It is mainly used for people with suspected heart failure. If it suggests there are abnormalities, a full scan will be performed.
Your technician will help you clean the gel from your chest.
Your doctor will talk with you after looking at your echo pictures and discuss what the pictures show.
An echocardiogram uses ultrasound, or harmless sound waves, to quickly and efficiently obtain valuable information about your heart. Our doctors regularly use an echocardiogram, or echo, when they have questions about the size, shape, and performance of your heart and its valves.
External echocardiogram poses no risks, as it is noninvasive and does not use radiation. Some people may feel uncomfortable having to lie in one position for the test.
Intracardiac testing carries the same low risk for bleeding, heart attack, and stroke as an angiogram performed during cardiac catheterization.
A transesophageal echocardiogram can include a bad reaction to the sedative and cause a sore throat or (rarely) a minor throat injury.
A stress echocardiogram can cause minor complications from the exercise or any medication used.
Other risks depend on your medical history. Discuss any concerns with your doctor before testing.