Echocardiography, also called an echo test or heart ultrasound, is a test that takes “moving pictures” of the heart with sound waves. You don’t have to stay in the hospital. It’s not surgery and doesn’t hurt.


Why do I need echo test?

Your doctor may use an echo test to look at your heart’s structure and check how well your heart is working.

This test may be needed if...

  • You have a heart murmur.
  • You’ve had a heart attack.
  • You have unexplained chest pains.
  • You’ve had rheumatic fever.
  • You have a congenital heart defect.

How is it done?

Echo tests are done by trained sonographers. You may have your test done in your doctor’s office, an emergency room, an operating room, a hospital clinic or a hospital room.

  • You’ll lie on a bed on your left side or back.
  • The sonographer will put special jelly on a probe and move it over your chest area.
  • Ultra-high-frequency sound waves will pick up images of your heart and valves. No X-rays will be used.
  • Your heart’s movements can be seen on a video screen.
  • A videotape or a photograph can be made of the pictures.
  • You can sometimes watch during the test.
  • It usually takes one hour.
  • It’s painless and has no side effects.

Sometimes the probe needs to be closer to your heart to give clearer pictures. You may need a special test called transesophageal echocardiography (TEE).

  • As you swallow, a cardiologist will gently pass a tube with a probe on the end of it down your throat and into the esophagus. (This is the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach.)
  • Sound waves will pick up images as explained above.
  • When the test is finished, the cardiologist will gently pull the probe out.
  • You may feel a need to cough.

What can the test show?

  • The size and shape of your heart
  • How well your heart is working overall
  • If a wall or section of heart muscle is weak and not working correctly
  • If you have problems with your heart’s valves
  • If you have a blood clot

What happens after the echo?

  • Your sonographer 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.

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