An echocardiogram is a common, painless test that doctors use to diagnose and monitor heart problems. If you’re having symptoms of a heart problem, you’ve had a heart attack, or you have been diagnosed with a heart condition, your doctor may recommend this test.
What is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram, also called an echo or an ECG, is a kind of ultrasound test that uses sound waves to make moving pictures of your heart.
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Why is an Echocardiogram Ordered?
An echocardiogram can help your doctor find out important facts about your heart health. It will show if your heart, heart valves, and the amount of blood that your heart pumps out are normal or if you have heart disease or another heart condition.
You may need an echocardiogram if you have:
- Been diagnosed with a heart condition like cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease) or heart valve disease.
- Had a heart attack or heart surgery.
- Signs and symptoms of a heart problem, like chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, or abnormal heart sounds.
How to Prepare for an Echocardiogram
Preparing for an echocardiogram is usually very easy. As an EKG is not an invasive test, nor is there any chance of receiving an electric shock, there is no special preparation necessary. You should, however, make sure your doctor knows all the medication and supplements you are taking as they may affect the result of the test.
In order to get a reading for an EKG, a trained technologist will need to apply sticky electrode readers to your chest and back. Therefore, you may want to wear clothes you can comfortably change out of. You will often be asked to wear a medical gown.
Some people may develop a rash from the adhesive used on the electrodes. If you are predisposed to skin conditions you may want to have a salve ready for after your EKG.
What to Expect During an Echocardiogram Procedure
Your test will be done in a doctor’s office or hospital by a specially trained technologist. No special preparations are necessary, and the test usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes.
The test will take place in a darkened room so your technologist can see the test monitor better. Before your test, you’ll undress from the waist up and put on a hospital gown, then lie down on an exam table.
Your technologist will place sticky patches called electrodes on your chest to monitor your heart rhythm through an electrocardiogram, or EKG. Next, your technologist will place gel on your chest and press a small device called a transducer against your chest over your heart, moving it back and forth. The transducer picks up and sends out sound waves, which travel to the test monitor and show pictures of your heart.
For most of the test, you’ll lie on your left side. You may need to lie on your back and hold your breath for a few seconds at a time. At certain points during the test, you may hear a whooshing sound, which is the sound of blood moving through your heart.
Echocardiogram Test Results
Your doctor will usually have the results of your echocardiogram in about a week and will go over your results with you. Results may be:
- Normal, meaning that your heart, heart valves, and the amount of blood your heart pumps out are normal.
- Abnormal, which will vary depending on your specific condition. It may mean that your heart chambers or valves are not working properly, the amount of blood your heart pumps out is not enough to meet your body’s needs, there is extra fluid around your heart, or you have a tumor or blood clot in your heart.
If you have abnormal results, your doctor may want to order more tests to pinpoint the cause of your condition.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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.