CardioSpecialists Group, Ltd.
About Your Echocardiogram
Also called: Echocardiography, Transthoracic Echocardiogram, Cardiac Ultrasound
What Is an Echocardiogram ?
An echocardiogram is a means of using sound technology to take a picture of the heart. This test is used by your doctor to look at your heart under various conditions. There are several types of echocardiograms which you might have. These are all based upon the same principle but they differ in exactly what aspect of the heart is being monitored. Your doctor might call for an echocardiogram if you have abnormal results from an electrocardiogram (EKG), chest pain, symptoms of heart failure, signs of a blood clot, or shortness of breath.
An echocardiogram showing the four chambers of the heart (from Wikimedia Commons).
Echocardiograms take a picture of your heart and blood vessels by bouncing sound waves off of your heart muscle. This technology is called ultrasound, and it is used to take pictures of developing fetuses inside the womb. There are several types of echocardiogram: 1-D, 2-D, or 3-D; doppler ultrasound; exercise stress; pharmacologic (with drugs) stress; transesophageal (TEE); intravascular; and intracardiac. The names denote either the circumstances of the imaging or the location of the monitor.
How Is the Test Performed?
You will be asked to remove all clothing covering your chest, and put on a hospital gown. A cold gel will be applied to your chest where the sensor (transducer) will touch. The lights will be dimmed so that the technician can better see the image of your heart on the screen. Pay attention to the instructions given. At various times during the test, you might be asked to move in one direction or another or hold your breath.
Most echocardiograms can last between 30 and 90 minutes, depending upon the type given. If you will have an exercise stress echocardiogram, after your baseline image is take, you will then be taken to a room with a treadmill or exercise bike which you will ride for a prescribed time while a second echocardiogram is taken. Following the initial echocardiogram, you could also have a pharmacological stress echocardiogram. You will have drugs injected into you through an IV, and another echocardiogram taken.
After the Procedure
You should be able to go home. If you had a pharmacological echocardiogram, you might experience nausea, heart palpitations (fluttering), chest pain, headaches, or flushing. If you find that you have severe chest pains or dizziness, talk to your doctor.
Is It Safe?
Echocardiograms are safer than other monitoring and imaging tests, since it does not use large magnets like an MRI or radiation like x-rays. The technology used in an echocardiogram is so safe that it is used to see an image of babies in the womb. Depending upon the type of echocardiogram your doctor is taking, you will likely feel nothing during the test and have no ill aftereffects. Even implanted echocardiograms are considered safe. Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor.