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Also known as:
echo, 2D echo, cardiac ultrasound, cardiac sonogram
An echocardiogram is an imaging procedure that uses high frequency sound waves to provide a picture of the heart’s movement, valves, and chambers. It may be combined with a Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to evaluate blood flow through the heart’s valves.
Why is it performed?
An echo reveals the size and shape of the heart, and its chambers. It can provide information about disease of the muscle and valves, and can help identify tumors and congenital heart disease. It also assesses the pumping function of the heart, yielding a number called the ejection fraction. (A normal EF is 55 to 80%; lower numbers reveal some level of impaired pumping.)
What is experienced?
A cool, colorless gel is applied to the chest and to the tip of the wand held by the cardiac sonographer. (The wand looks like a small microphone.) The wand is gently rubbed across your chest. A gentle pressure is felt from the wand, but there is no pain. During a Doppler procedure, dull thumping sounds may be heard. These sounds are normal and are produced by the movement of blood through various vessels.
- The patient is asked to remove all clothing and jewelry, from the waist to the neck, and given a hospital gown.
- The sonographer places three electrodes on the chest, using small sticky patches. These electrodes are attached by wires to an electrocardiograph monitor to generate an electrocardiogram (ECG) — a record of the heart’s electrical activity.
- The patient lies on his left side on an exam table.
- The sonographer applies a small amount of cool gel to the chest and to the sound-wave transducer at the tip of the wand. The gel helps assure good contact and clearer pictures.
- The sonographer moves the wand slowly around the chest.
- The patient is asked to change position, from the back to the side, to provide different visual angles. The patient will also be asked to hold his breath briefly during some parts of the procedure.
- The sonographer watches the images on a screen during the procedure, and a permanent record of the images also is made.
- Depending on the extent of the procedure, it may take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.
None. After the procedure, the sonographer wipes the gel from the chest and the patient may dress and leave.
Are there any risks?