What Is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram (also called “echo,” echocardiography, or diagnostic cardiac ultrasound) is a test that uses high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to create images of the heart’s chambers, valves, walls, and the blood vessels (aorta, arteries, veins) attached to the heart.
What Is an Echocardiogram Used to Diagnose?
An echocardiogram is used to look at the structure of the heart and how well it functions. The images can show the size and shape of a person’s heart, the size, thickness and movement of the heart’s walls, and how the heart moves.
An echocardiogram is used to diagnose:
- The strength at which the heart pumps
- Problems with heart valves
- Blood leaking backwards through the heart valves (regurgitation)
- Narrow heart valves (stenosis)
- A tumor or infectious growth around the heart valves
- Problems with the outer lining of the heart (the pericardium)
- Problems with the large blood vessels that enter and leave the heart
- Blood clots in the chambers of the heart
- Abnormal holes between the chambers of the heart
How Do Doctors Perform an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram test may be performed in a doctor’s office, an emergency room, an operating room, a hospital clinic, or a hospital room.
- The patient lays down on a table and a technician places electrodes on the chest
- The electrodes have wires that hook to an electrocardiograph machine
- An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) keeps track of the patient’s heartbeat
- Gel is applied to the chest to help sound waves pass through the skin
- A probe (transducer) is passed across the chest that produces sound waves that bounce off the heart and “echo” back to the probe
- The sound waves are converted into images that are displayed on a video monitor
- The test takes about an hour