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.