What is an echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram uses an ultrasound machine to take a scan of your heart. It is carried out by a specially qualified technician and is sometimes just called an ‘echo’, ‘echo heart’ or ‘echogram’.
Ultrasound machines detect sounds with such high frequencies that they cannot be heard by humans. The test is called an echocardiogram because the sound ‘bounces’ or echoes back from the heart tissue to give an accurate picture of the heart. For example, ultrasound passes easily through fluid so there is little echo from the blood in the heart, which would otherwise affect the result. Heart valves are more solid, so the ultrasound waves hitting a valve will send back a clear picture of the structure of the heart. The amount of ultrasound which echoes back depends on the thickness of the tissue that the sound has hit. This allows us to see some abnormalities quite clearly, such as damaged heart valves, thickened heart muscle and some congenital heart problems (present from birth).
A heart echocardiogram is painless and harmless.
Preparing for your echocardiogram
You do not need to make any special preparations for an echocardiogram. You may eat and drink normally before and after the test.
You can continue to take your usual medication. However, you will be asked to give your Echo Specialist a list of your medications when you arrive so that they can record it in your notes. Some medications may affect the normal rhythm of the heart and we need to be aware of this when looking at your results.
During an echocardiogram
You will need to take off your top and lie on the couch. A probe will be placed on your chest, a bit like a very thick blunt pen. Lubricating jelly will also be put on your chest to help the probe make good contact with the skin.
How long does an echocardiogram take?
An echocardiogram usually takes between 30 to 40 minutes. This depends on how easily the physiologists can obtain the images required as well as the findings found within them.
Your echocardiogram results
The results from your echocardiogram will be sent to your doctor who will call you in for a further appointment if necessary.