An echocardiogram (sometimes also called echo) is a test that uses high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to generate pictures of your heart. The test is also called echocardiography or cardiac ultrasound.
An echo test uses sound waves to create pictures of the chambers, valves, walls and the blood vessels (aorta, arteries, veins) of your heart. A probe called a transducer is passed over your chest. The probe produces sound waves that goes to the heart and echo back to the probe. The pictures of heart so generated can be viewed on a video monitor or a screen.
An echo test does not cause any harm to you unlike radiations such as X rays etc.
Your doctor may ask you for an echo test to look at your heart’s structure and check how well your heart functions and if there is any abnormality therein or not.
The test helps your doctor find out many things such as:
There are many types of echocardiograms. Your doctor will determine which is the best for you among them.
This is the standard echocardiogram. It is painless and uses ultrasound technology similar to the one used to test a baby’s health before birth.
This test requires the transducer or probe to be inserted into the throat and the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). The esophagus is located close to your heart; therefore, clear images of the heart can be obtained with this procedure.
This type of echocardiogram is performed with the person on exercises on a treadmill or stationary bicycle.
This test can be used to visualize the motion of the heart's walls and pumping action when the heart is doing physical activity and is stressed.
This is also a type of stress echocardiogram. However, instead of doing exercises to stress the heart, your heart is made to work harder by giving a drug that stimulates the heart.
This is performed during cardiac catheterization. A transducer is threaded into the heart blood vessels via a catheter in the groin. It is generally used to gather detailed information about the atherosclerosis (blockage) inside the blood vessels.
Echocardiograms are generally considered very safe. Unlike other imaging techniques, such as X-rays, MRI, etc, echocardiograms don’t use radiations.
You don’t have to do anything particular for a standard or transthoracic echocardiogram. You can eat and drink before the test like you usually do.
However, if you have a trans-esophageal echocardiogram, your doctor may ask you not to eat anything for a few hours before the test. This is to prevent you from vomiting what you have eaten during the test.
You may not be able to drive for a few hours after the test due to the effect of sedatives.
You may be asked to wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable for exercises.
Echo tests are done by trained technicians. The tests may be done in a doctor’s office, an emergency room, an operating room, or in a hospital. The test takes about one hour. The procedure goes like this:
Your doctor will study the results after the test. The results may reveal abnormalities such as those discussed above in this article.
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