What is an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram, commonly known as an “Echo,” is done with ultrasound. It is a noninvasive diagnostic procedure which is safe and painless. A small hand held device called a transducer is used to take pictures of your heart. These pictures appear on a television-like screen and are recorded on videotape or CD rom.

An Echo will show the structures of your heart. It can also evaluate the function of your heart muscles and valves.

In addition to the echo, your doctor might order a Spectral Doppler study, this study is done with the 2-D echo using the same transducer. A Spectral Doppler measures the speed and amount of blood going through the valves of the heart. You will hear a funny swishing sound, while the Doppler is being performed. This is the blood flowing through your heart.

A color flow Doppler will also be part of your study. It will show the direction of the blood flowing in the heart. It will also show any valves that may be leaking (regurgitation) or stiff (stenotic), and any shunts (holes) in the heart. A color flow Doppler is used to complement the Echo and Spectral Doppler study.

 

What will I experience during the test?

The echo will be performed by a specially trained sonographer. The entire procedure will be explained to you prior to the test. An echo will take about 10 to 15 minutes to do. An echo and Spectral Doppler with color flow usually takes a bit longer, about 15 to 20 minutes. You will be asked to undress from the waist up and will be given a gown to wear. Three electrodes or patches will be placed on your chest. This is to monitor your heart beat during the test.

An echo does not hurt. A harmless, water-soluble “gel” is applied to the area of your skin where the transducer will be placed. This may feel cold and a bit most. The gel will be wiped off thoroughly after the test is completed. You might feel a slight pressure on your chest as the transducer is moved into different positions in order to obtain the best possible pictures. Please let the sonographer know if this is too uncomfortable. The transducer may be moved from the center of the chest, your left side and upper abdomen. Sometimes it is necessary to take pictures from under your neck.

You will be lying on your left side or flat on your back for the entire procedure. You may be asked to change your position in order to get better pictures. You should feel comfortable at all times. Feel free to let the sonographer know if you are uncomfortable and would like to move in a different position.