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What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Echocardiogram Overview

Written by FoundHealth.


An echocardiogram uses sound waves (called ultrasound) to look at the size, shape, and motion of the heart.

The test shows:

  • Four chambers of the heart
  • Heart valves and the walls of the heart
  • Blood vessels entering and leaving the heart
  • The sac that surrounds the heart

The Heart Sac
The Heart Sac
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

In addition to this standard test, there are specialized echocardiograms:

  • Contrast echocardiogram—A solution is injected into the vein and can be seen in the heart.
  • Stress echocardiogram—This records the heart's activity during a cardiac stress test .
  • Echocardiogram with Doppler ultrasound —This helps your doctor assess blood flow.
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram —To provide clear images of the heart, the ultrasound device is put down your throat. Your doctor may need to use this view depending on what part of the heart needs to be looked at.
  • Also, if you have the following conditions, you may need this test, rather than the standard echocardiogram:
  • Certain lung diseases
  • Obesity


What to Expect

Prior to Test

Your doctor may do the following:

  • Physical exam
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) —a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle

Description of Test

A gel is put on your chest. This gel helps the sound waves travel. The technician presses a small, hand-held device (called a transducer) against your skin. The transducer sends sound waves toward your heart. The sound waves are then reflected back to the device. The waves are converted into electrical impulses. These impulses become an image on the screen.

The technician can capture a still image, or videotape moving images. To get clearer and more complete images, the technician may move the transducer to different areas of your chest. You may be asked to change positions and slowly inhale, exhale, or hold your breath.

After Test

The gel is wiped from your chest.

How Long Will It Take?

30-60 minutes

Will It Hurt?



The images are analyzed by a specialist. Based on the findings, your doctor will recommend treatment or further testing.



American Heart Association

American Society of Echocardiography


Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

Heart Healthy Kit: Public Health Agency of Canada


Echocardiogram. Mayo website. Available at: . Updated July 2010. Accessed November 12, 2010.

Echocardiography. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: . Updated March 2007. Accessed July 28, 2008.

Heart damage detection. American Heart Association website. Available at: . Accessed July 28, 2008.

Huttemann E. Transoesophageal echocardiography in critical care. Minerva Anestesiol. 2006;72:891-913.

The most common heart ultrasound: transthoracic echocardiogram. American Society of Echocardiography website. Available at: . Updated April 2007. Accessed July 28, 2008.

Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: . Accessed July 28, 2008.

Sanderson JE, Chan WW. Transoesophageal echocardiography. Postgrad Med J. 1997;73:137-140.



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