Echocardiogram

Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram (echo) is a noninvasive procedure used to assess the heart's function and structures. During the procedure, a transducer sends out sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. When the transducer is placed on the chest at certain locations and angles, the sound waves move through the skin and other body tissues to the heart tissues, where the waves bounce or "echo" off the heart structures. These sound waves are sent to a computer that can create moving images of the heart walls and valves.

What to Expect

The patient is asked to remove jewelry and clothing from the waist up and given a gown to wear.

Lying on a table or bed, position on the left side, the patient is connected to an ECG monitor that records the electrical activity of the heart and monitors the heart during the procedure using small, adhesive electrodes.

A tech places gel on the patient’s chest, places the transducer probe on the gel and moves the transducer probe around to obtain images of different locations and structures of the heart. The patient may be asked to hold their breath, take deep breaths or sniff through their nose during the procedure. If the heart structures are difficult to see, the technologist may use an IV contrast.

After the procedure, the tech wipes off the gel and removes the electrodes.

Exercise Echocardiogram

An exercise echocardiogram is done to assess the heart's response to stress or exercise and compare the results to when the heart is at rest.

After the resting echocardiogram images have been taken, the patient exercises on a treadmill or stationary bicycle until their heart rate reaches a target or they start having symptoms that limit their ability to keep exercising. At that point, the echo procedure is repeated. The doctor then compares the resting echo with the test done right after exercise.

An exercise echocardiogram may be done:

  • To check for coronary artery disease

  • To assess how well the heart works and if the structures are normal

  • To check the heart to be sure exercise is safe for someone entering a cardiac rehab program or someone recovering from a heart attack or heart surgery

  • To test blood pressure levels during exercises

  • To see the cardiac status of a person about to have surgery

  • To evaluate symptoms of shortness of breath, or trouble breathing that comes on with exercise

Symptoms

An echo may be performed for further evaluation of signs or symptoms of:

  • Atherosclerosis

  • Cardiomyopathy

  • Congenital heart disease

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Aneurysm

  • Valvular heart disease

  • Cardiac tumor

  • Pericarditis

  • Pericardial effusion or tamponade

  • Atrial or septal wall defects

  • Shunts

An echo may also be simply performed to assess the heart’s overall function and general structure.

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