What is an Echocardiogram and how does it work?
An echocardiogram is a test that uses ultrasound waves to examine the heart. It is a safe and painless procedure that helps doctors diagnose a variety of heart problems. During the test, a transducer is held against the chest. The transducer sends ultrasound waves that reflect (echo) off the various parts of the heart. A computer uses the information coming from the transducer to construct an image of the heart. The image is displayed on a television screen and recorded digitally.
What Does It Show?
The echocardiogram provides doctors with important information about the heart, such as:
- Size of the heart. The echocardiogram is useful for measuring the size of the heart chambers and thickness of the heart muscle.
- Pumping strength. The test shows whether the heart is pumping at full strength or is weakened. It can also help determine whether the various parts of the heart pump equally.
- Valve problems. The test shows the shape and motion of the heart valves. It can help determine if a valve is narrowed or leaking and show how severe the problem is.
- Other uses. The test is also used to detect the presence of fluid around the heart, blood clots or masses inside the heart, and abnormal holes between heart chambers. Estimation of pressures in the heart, diastolic function (how well your heart relaxes after each contraction) as well as the degree of dysynchrony (how well the parts of your heart squeeze together in an organized fashion) can all be evaluated in one echo study.
What Happens During the Test?
- You will be asked to remove clothing above the waist, and put on an examination gown to help keep you warm and comfortable. You will then lie on an examination table. A few electrocardiogram (ECG) leads will be attached to your chest and shoulders to record your hearts electrical activity/rhythm.
- You will lie on your back or on your left side with your left arm pointing towards the head of the bed. To improve the quality of the pictures, gel is applied to the area of the chest where the transducer will be placed.
- A sonographer moves the transducer over the chest, to obtain different views of the heart. He or she may ask you to change positions. You may also be asked to breathe slowly or hold your breath, in order to maximize the image quality.
How Long Does It Take?
A thorough examination usually takes between 30-45 minutes, depending on body shape and type of heart problem.
Is the Echocardiogram Safe?
The echocardiogram is very safe. There are no known risks from the ultrasound waves. The echocardiogram is also painless, although you may feel slight discomfort when the transducer is held against the chest.
Our cardiologists read the echocardiographic images and the results are conveyed to referring physician within 1-3 days.