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 — usually is 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 noninvasive 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.

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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.
  • Tiredness.
  • Weakness.
  • 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. Laying on your side or back, the technologist will apply a special gel to help move the transducer 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, creating pictures.

No radiation or x-rays will be used. You might hear a whooshing sound during the test, which is simply the sound of your heart pumping blood.

An echocardiogram is a short test that takes about 15 to 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.

To make an appointment for an echocardiogram, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.