An echocardiogram, also known as echocardiography, is a type of ultrasound scan used to look at the heart and nearby blood vessels. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of the heart chambers. The test allows a cardiologist to see how your heart beats and pumps blood.
An echocardiogram uses a small probe to send out high-frequency sound waves that create echoes when they bounce off different parts of the body. The probe picks up these echoes and they are turned into a moving image on a monitor that the cardiologist can see.
An echocardiogram may be ordered by a cardiologist if you’re experiencing symptoms of heart problems.
An echocardiogram can help your cardiologist diagnose and monitor certain heart conditions. It helps your cardiologist check the structure of your heart and surrounding blood vessels. Your cardiologist can also analyze how blood flows through your blood vessels as well as assess the pumping chambers of your heart.
An echocardiogram can help a cardiologist diagnose and detect:
- The extent of damage from a heart attack
- Heart failure
- Congenital heart disease
- Problems with the heart valves
- Cardiomyopathy (thickened or enlarged heart walls)
- Endocarditis (an infection of the heart valves)
An echocardiogram is a diagnostic procedure that helps your cardiologist decides on the best treatment plan for your heart condition.
During an echocardiogram, you’ll be asked to remove any clothing covering your chest area. You will be asked to lie down on a bed.
The technician will attach several small sticky sensors called electrodes to your chest. These electrodes are connected to a machine that monitors your heart rhythm.
A lubricating gel will be applied to your chest where the ultrasound probe will be moved across.
You’ll then be asked to lie on your left side. The technician will move the ultrasound probe back and forth across your chest to record images of sound wave echoes from your chest. The ultrasound probe is connected to a nearby machine that displays and records the images produced.
The whole procedure usually takes between 15 and 60 minutes.
Images from an echocardiogram will usually need to be analyzed before the results are sent to the cardiologist who requested the test.
Information from the echocardiogram may show:
Changes in the size of your heart
Weakened or damaged heart valves, high blood pressure, or other heart diseases can cause the chambers of your heart to enlarge.
An echocardiogram can measure the percentage of blood that’s pumped out of a filled ventricle with each heartbeat and the volume of blood pumped by the heart in one minute.
Damage to the heart muscle
Results from an echocardiogram can help your doctor determine whether all parts of your heart wall are contributing normally to your heart’s pumping activity.
Results from an echocardiogram can help your doctor determine if your heart valves open wide enough for adequate blood flow or close fully to prevent blood leakage.
Results from an echocardiogram can show problems with the heart chambers and complex heart defects. It can also show if there are abnormal connections between the heart and major blood vessels.
Echocardiography Types and Uses
There are different types of echocardiograms. These include:
This is the standard and most common type of echocardiogram. In this type of echocardiogram, the technician uses an ultrasound hand-held device which is placed and moved back and forth across your chest to record images of sound wave echoes from your chest. The ultrasound probe is connected to a nearby machine that displays and records the images produced.
If your lungs or ribs block the view of your chest, the technician may inject a small amount of an enhancing agent through an intravenous (IV) line. The enhancing agent will make your heart’s structures show up more clearly on a monitor.
Transesophageal echocardiogram provides more detailed images than the transthoracic echocardiogram. If your doctor wants more-detailed images or it’s difficult to get clear images of your heart with a transthoracic echocardiogram, your doctor may recommend a transesophageal echocardiogram.
Transesophageal echocardiogram, your throat will be numbed, and you’ll be given medications to help you relax throughout the procedure.
A flexible tube containing a transducer will be guided down your throat and into the esophagus. Since the transducer is close to your heart, it records the sound wave echoes from your heart. The transducer is connected to a computer that converts the echoes into detailed moving images of your heart.
This test can help your doctor measure the speed and direction of the flow of blood in your heart. Doppler echocardiogram can be used to check blood flow problems and blood pressure in the arteries of your heart which traditional ultrasound might not be able to detect.
A stress echocardiogram is usually conducted to check for coronary artery problems. A stress echocardiogram is conducted during physical activity or exercise.
Ultrasound images of your heart are taken before and immediately after an exercise, such as walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.
What symptoms require an echocardiogram?
Your doctor may order an echocardiogram if you have symptoms of heart diseases such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Swelling in the legs
- Dizziness or fainting
- Unusual tiredness
Your doctor may also order an echocardiogram if something abnormal, like a heart murmur, is detected during an exam.
What are the normal results of an echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram can show clear images of the health status of the heart, function, and strength. The test can show if the heart is enlarged or has thickened walls. The heart walls that are thicker than 1.5cm are considered abnormal. The test may also display high blood pressure and weak or damaged valves.
A normal ejection fraction (how well your left ventricle or right ventricle pumps blood with each heartbeat) is between 50% and 70%. This means the left ventricle pumps out between 50% and 70% of its total volume.
How long does an echocardiogram take?
An echocardiogram usually takes between 15 and 60 minutes.
Can echo detect heart blockage?
An echocardiogram can detect heart blockage such as coronary artery disease.
What is the difference between echo and ECG?
An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a test that is used to check your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity while an echocardiogram is used to check how your heart beats and pumps blood.
What happens if my echocardiogram is abnormal?
Abnormal echocardiogram results show that something is wrong with your heart. The results help your doctor determine if further testing is necessary and also help your doctor determine the right treatment plan for you.
Which is more accurate ECG or echo?
An echocardiogram provides a more accurate result for heart structure and function.
Is the echo test painful?
An echocardiogram is a painless test. No incision is made. The transducer is painless and is gently moved back and forth across your chest.
What is the cost of an echo test?
An echocardiogram typically costs between $1,000 – $3,000 or more.