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Brief Description – An echocardiogram is a test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the heart. The picture is more detailed than a standard x-ray image. An echocardiogram does not expose you to radiation.

Why the Test is Performed

This test is done to evaluate the valves and chambers of the heart from the outside of your body. The echocardiogram can help detect:

  •  Abnormal heart valves
  •  Abnormal heart rhythms
  •  Congenital heart disease
  •  Damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack
  •  Heart murmurs
  •  Inflammation (pericarditis) or fluid in the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion)
  •  Infection on or around the heart valves (infectious endocarditis)
  •  Pulmonary hypertension
  •  Ability of the heart to pump (for people with heart failure)
  •  Source of a blood clot after a stroke or TIAHow the Test is Performed

    A trained sonographer performs the test. A heart doctor (cardiologist) interprets the results.

  • An instrument called a transducer is placed on your ribs near the breast bone and directed toward the heart. This device releases high-frequency sound waves.
  • Images will be taken at other locations as well, including underneath and slightly to the left of your nipple and in the upper abdomen. The transducer picks up the echoes of sound waves and transmits them as electrical impulses. The echocardiography machine converts these impulses into moving pictures of the heart. Still pictures are also taken.Pictures can be two-dimensional or three-dimensional. The type of picture will depend on the part of the heart being evaluated and the type of machine.

    A Doppler echocardiogram records the motion of blood through the heart. An echocardiogram allows doctors to see the heart beating. It also shows the heart valves and other structures. In

some cases, your lungs, ribs, or body tissue may prevent the sound waves and echoes from providing a clear picture of heart function. If this is a problem, the sonographer may inject a small amount of liquid (contrast) through an IV to better see the inside of the heart.

Rarely, more invasive testing using special echocardiography probes may be needed. This may be a trans-oesophageal type. Here, the back of your throat is numbed and a scope is inserted down your throat. On the end of the scope is a device that sends out sound waves. A heart doctor with special training will guide the scope down the oesophagus. This method is used to get a clearer echocardiogram of your heart.

How to Prepare For the Test

No special steps are needed before the type that is non-invasive. But if you are having the invasive type, you will not be able to eat or drink for several hours before the test.

During the Test

You will need to take off your clothes from the waist up and lie on an exam table on your back. Electrodes will be placed on your chest to monitor your heart beat. A gel is spread on your chest and the transducer will be moved over your skin. You will feel a slight pressure on your chest from the transducer. You may be asked to breathe in a certain way or to roll over onto your left side. Sometimes a special bed is used to help you stay in the proper position.

After the Test

You may feel a little discomfort if the type you had was the one that goes through your oesophagus. But this will not exceed a couple of days.


There are no known risks from the non-invasive type. Discuss with your cardiologist the likely risks that the invasive type may present.

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