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What is an Echocardiogram?

By Madeleine A.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An echocardiogram is a diagnostic medical test that utilizes sound waves, similar to ultrasound, to generate images of the heart. Typically, the echocardiogram allows the physician to view how well the heart is beating. In addition, this procedure can show how effectively the heart is pumping blood. An echocardiogram is usually performed if the physician suspects heart valve irregularities or if the heart's pumping ability is in question. No pre-test preparation is necessary for the echocardiogram procedure.

Typically, the echocardiogram is performed either in the physician's office or the hospital. The patient will lie on the exam table while the technician prepares for the test. The echocardiogram technician will apply electrodes, or patches, to various locations that will assist in detecting cardiac abnormalities. Usually, during the procedure, the lights in the room will either be off or dimmed, so the technician can gain an optimal view of the monitor. The patient may hear a whooshing sound that is characteristic of cardiac blood flow.

Generally, the procedure takes about an hour. This depends, however, on the patient's condition. Sometimes the technician may request that the patient breath in a particular manner, or request that he position himself on his side to get more complete test results. The procedure is usually painless, but the patient may feel mild to moderate pressure as the transducer presses down on the chest area. Applying firm pressure against the chest produces sharper, more acute images of the cardiovascular system.

If the physician deems the echocardiogram is normal, the patient may not need further evaluation. In the event that abnormalities are discovered, the patient may be referred to a cardiologist. A cardiologist is a physician who specializes in diseases and conditions of the heart. Sometimes, follow-up examinations may include a heart scan or cardiac angiogram. This minimally invasive procedure uses a catheter that is threaded into an artery to determine if a vessel is blocked. The angiogram can help doctors find root causes for blood flow issues and can help them identify aneurysms.

Normally, the cardiac ultrasound can reveal a normal heart size, and it can also help the physician determine if the heart is pumping adequately. In addition, heart muscle damage and valvular anomalies can be revealed. An echocardiogram test is considered a safe medical procedure and is frequently performed on newborn babies if heart defects are suspected. Since no radiation is emitted from the ultrasound mechanism, the cardiac ultrasound is the diagnostic medical imaging test of choice in pediatrics.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1001968 — On Aug 05, 2019

Starjo, I just had an echocardiogram today. The transducer did not put a lot of pressure on my chest. It was not painful at all. I heard the swooshing sound two or three times, but not for long. They enhance the sound so they can hear the sound better. They said to allow 45 minutes for the test.

I had a good person doing my test, and we were done in 20 minutes. She said she had been doing the tests for 21 years. It is the easiest test I have ever done, so please try to relax. The only thing I did not like was she said she has to tell everyone that it will be 10-12 days for results. That is the hard part: waiting for results. I have a feeling I will get a call before that. I hope this helps you. --75 year old woman

By StarJo — On Dec 27, 2011

I will be having an echocardiogram next month, and I am nervous about it. Can anyone here tell me if the pressure the transducer puts on your chest is uncomfortable or painful?

I have been having issues with an irregular heartbeat, and I’m scared that anything pushing on my chest might cause more problems than it would reveal. Also, when I get anxious, my heart beats more wildly, and I don’t want to go in there with a nervous state of mind, if I can avoid it.

Is the whooshing sound loud or alarming? I am just envisioning myself having a panic attack during the procedure. Any information you can give me would be helpful.

By wavy58 — On Dec 26, 2011

I was taking an experimental medication to treat my kidney disease, and the research team required that I get an echocardiogram once every six months. This particular medication was also used to treat heart patients, and it had been found to cause irregularities in some of them, so they thought it best to have everyone monitored.

The procedure relaxed me. Being in the room with dim light and lying on the table made it so hard to stay awake!

Most people would have a problem resting while electrodes are attached to them, but I can pass out at the drop of a hat. The technician had to keep checking to make sure I was awake!

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