What is an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram, sometimes called an “echo,” is an imaging test that uses the echoes of sound waves that are bounced off your heart to create a moving picture of your moving heart, its muscles and valves. It shows how well your heart is working, as well as how large your heart is.

A small hand-held device called a transducer is used to transmit and receive the sound waves and echoes that take the pictures of your heart. Special equipment changes the echoes into images of your heart that are seen on a monitor. These images help the doctor evaluate your heart.

An echo is very safe and painless. In fact, echocardiograms are very similar to the imaging technique called sonograms or ultrasounds used with pregnant women to monitor the developing fetus while still in the womb.

Before your Echo

It is best to avoid eating within two hours prior to the test. Make sure you wear a two-piece outfit, you may need to undress from the waist up and put on a gown. Although the test itself takes less than 45 minutes, you should allow extra time to check in.

For this test, which is a non-stress echocardiogram, you may take your normal medications before the test.

During your Echo

Small electrodes are placed on your chest to monitor your heartbeat. A transducer coated with warm gel is moved firmly over your chest. This device creates the sound waves that make the images of your heart. At times, you may be asked to exhale and hold your breath for a few seconds. Air in your lungs can affect the images. The images of your heart are recorded on a CD so your doctor can review them.