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Echocardiogram (ECHO)


What is an Echocardiogram?
Why do I need an Echocardiogram?

What can I expect when I arrive for my Echocardiogram?

What information will be given to me after the Echocardiogram is completed?
Where can I get an echocardiogram?

What is an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram (echo, transthoracic echo, cardiac ultrasound), is a noninvasive exam that uses ultrasound to create a moving picture of the heart.  There is no radiation involved with having an echocardiogram.  This technique is used to visualize the actual structures and motion of the heart.  In addition to assessing the size and function of the different heart chambers, an echo can also be used to assess the function of the heart valves, including how the blood flows across the valves.

A complete echocardiogram usually includes the following components:

  • Two-Dimensional Imaging – This is the actual moving image of the heart on the monitor.  It shows the physician the size of the heart chambers, how the heart muscle is working and how the heart valves are working.

  • Color Flow Imaging – Different colors are used to show the physician the direction and velocity of blood flow within the heart chambers and across the heart valves.

  • Spectral Doppler – This is another way to measure and assess the flow of blood through the heart’s chambers and valves.  The amount and velocity of blood pumped with each beat is an indication of the heart’s function.  Doppler can detect abnormal blood flow within the heart, which can indicate a problem with one or more of the heart’s four valves or the heart’s walls.  You will actually hear the how your heart sounds when a doppler is performed.

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Why do I need an Echocardiogram?

Doctors use echocardiograms to diagnose and evaluate conditions of the heart and surrounding veins and arteries.  Echocardiography can be used to determine causes for chest pain, shortness of breath and other symptoms associated with heart disease.  It can be used to establish a baseline for reference in tracking chronic heart conditions, evaluate the effects of a heart attack, diagnose narrowed or leaking heart valves, or determine the need for intervention or as a follow-up to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment.  Many times, an echocardiogram is used to assess the heart for any abnormalities that may have caused or could lead to a stroke.   An echocardiogram also can determine if the heart or aorta has been damaged in an accident.  Young children and infants may have an echocardiogram performed if congenital heart disease is known or suspected.

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What can I expect when I arrive for my Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in the hospital.

Generally, an echocardiogram follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that may interfere with the procedure.  You may wear your glasses, dentures or hearing aids if you use any of these.

  2. You will be given a gown and be asked to remove any clothing above the waist.  

  3. You will lie on a bed, positioned on your back or your left side.  A pillow or wedge may be placed behind your back for support.

  4. You will have 3 small electrode patches placed on your chest and you will be connected to an ECG monitor that will record the electrical rhythm of your heart during the procedure.

  5. The room will be darkened so that the images on the echo monitor can be viewed by the technologist.

  6. The technologist will place some warm gel on a transducer and then place it on your chest.  You will feel a slight pressure as the technologist positions the transducer to get the desired image of your heart.

  7. During the exam, the technologist will move the transducer probe around and apply varying amounts of pressure to obtain images of different locations and structures of your heart.  The amount of pressure behind the probe should not be uncomfortable.  If it does may you uncomfortable, however, let the technologist know.

  8. Occasionally, depending on the reason for the echocardiogram and the difficulty in obtaining the images, the technologist may need to start an IV in your arm in order to inject an agent that will help the physician to interpret the results.

  9. After the procedure has been completed, the technologist will wipe the gel from your chest and remove the ECG pads.  You may then put on your clothes.

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What information will be given to me after the Echocardiogram is completed?

The technologist performing the echocardiogram is not permitted to interpret the results for you.  They will process the study and give it to a cardiologist (heart doctor) for interpretation.  The interpretation is usually done the same day the echo is performed.  However, if the technologist feels that there is anything that should be addressed immediately; they will contact a cardiologist for a prompt interpretation.  If you are an outpatient, you may be asked to wait in the echo department for further instructions until after the cardiologist reads the study.

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