What is an Echocardiogram?
If you have signs of heart problems or are at risk for heart disease, your doctor may order tests to find out how well your heart is working. One of these tests, an echocardiogram, is usually the first step.
An echocardiogram, also called an echo or a diagnostic cardio ultrasound, uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart. It is a non-invasive test, meaning that no instruments are inserted into your body. During the test, a specially trained technologist moves a small device, called a transducer, across your chest to take pictures of your heart.
Why Do I Need an Echocardiogram?
Your doctor may order this test if you have symptoms of heart disease and other heart problems, including:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Heart murmurs, or unusual heart sounds
- A pounding, racing, or fluttering heart
What Does an Echocardiogram Show?
An echocardiogram will show your doctor:
- The size and shape of your heart
- The size, thickness, and movement of your heart’s walls
- Your heart’s pumping strength
- If your heart valves are working the right way, and how well they are working
What Can I Expect During an Echocardiogram?
Before your test, you’ll remove all clothing above your waist and put on a hospital gown. The technologist will ask you to lay on your side or back and put a special gel on the transducer to help it move across your chest.
The technologist will move the transducer back and forth, sometimes pressing firmly. Sound waves will be transmitted through the transducer to your heart and back again, creating pictures.
No radiation or x-rays will be used. You might hear a whooshing sound during the test, and this is simply the sound of your heart pumping blood.
An echocardiogram is a short test that takes about 15-20 minutes to complete.
What Do My Echocardiogram Results Mean?
After your test, your doctor will go over your results with you.
- Normal results mean that your heart and its valves are working the right way, and the amount of blood your heart pumps out is normal.
- Abnormal results can vary depending on your condition, including problems with your heart chambers or valves, the amount of blood your heart pumps, if there is extra fluid around your heart, or if you have a tumor or a blood clot.