Echocardiogram (Echo)

What is it?

What to Expect

What It Is: Your healthcare provider may order an echocardiogram to look at your heart’s structure and determine how well your heart is functioning. This is a common procedure that uses high frequency sound waves to produce images of the heart and helps to determine if heart problems are the cause of your symptoms. This procedure can also be called echocardiography or diagnostic cardiac ultrasound.  

What Happens: During this procedure, you lie on an exam table. The healthcare provider will attach small discs to your chest that use an adhesive with wires to an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) machine to keep track of your heartbeat during the procedure. The room will be darkened for the healthcare provider to better see the video monitor. Gel will be put on your chest and a probe, also called a transducer, will be passed across your chest. The probe produces sound waves that bounce off your heart and these are changed into pictures that are displayed on the video monitor. The pictures are recorded for your healthcare provider to view later. If the structures of your heart are hard to see, the technician performing the procedure may use an IV contrast that is not iodine based that helps the heart chambers show up better on the images.

Understanding the Results

The results of the echo can provide your healthcare provider with information about your heart and heart valves. Your healthcare provider will review the results with you after the procedure is completed. This procedure gives information about:

  1. The size and shape of your heart, and the size, thickness and movement of your heart’s walls
  2. How the heart valves are working including if they are narrowed, not closing well, or have evidence of infection around them
  3. How your heart moves during heartbeats
  4. The strength of the heart’s pumping
  5. The pressure on the right side of the heart which can determine if pulmonary hypertension is present
  6. If blood clots are present
  7. If there are any abnormal holes in the heart
  8. The structure of the outer lining of the heart (pericardium) including if there is an abnormal fluid collection (effusion) in the lining of the heart

What Are the Risks?

An echocardiogram is a noninvasive procedure that is painless and has no side effects. You may experience slight discomfort from the position you need to be in during the procedure. 

  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/echocardiogram

  2. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. What is an echocardiogram? 2016 Oct 6 [Updated 2019 Jan 31]. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK395556/

Page last updated: March 10, 2023

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