An echocardiogram (also called an echo) is a non-invasive test that uses sound waves to create a detailed, moving picture of the heart and valves. This test allows your doctor to evaluate the functioning of your heart. It is often used to measure pumping function in those with heart failure or to determine the extent of damage after a heart attack. An echocardiogram can be used to diagnose, evaluate and monitor a number of conditions, including:
- Abnormal heart valves
- Atrial fibrillation
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart murmurs
- Infections in the sac around the heart (pericarditis) or the heart valves (infectious endocarditis)
- Pulmonary hypertension
Types of echocardiograms
Our doctors can perform a range of echocardiograms, including:
- Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) - The most common type of echocardiogram is performed by moving the transducer (which picks up the sound waves) to different areas on the outside of your chest or abdomen to obtain views of the heart.
- Stress echocardiogram - This test is performed before and after your heart is stressed, either with exercise or medication to increase heart rate. Doctors use this test to determine whether you have decreased blood flow to your heart, such as in coronary artery disease.
- Doppler echocardiogram - This test is used to examine how blood flows through the heart chambers, valves and vessels.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) - When a regular echocardiogram is unclear, either due to obesity or lung disease, a TEE can provide a clearer picture. In this test, a probe is guided down the esophagus and can be positioned closer to the heart, without obstruction from the lungs and chest wall. This procedure is performed under mild sedation.
During the Test
Electrodes are attached to your chest and shoulders to record the electrical activity of your heart. You will be asked to lie on your back or left side, and a clear gel is applied in order to give the best views possible. You may be asked to breathe slowly or even hold your breath in order to get the best picture possible. The exam usually takes 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the number of views needed and whether or not Doppler echo is required.
The procedure is painless although you may feel slightly uncomfortable pressure from the transducer being pressed against your chest. Patients with broad chests, those who are obese and those with chronic lung disease may not be able to have good quality images produced.