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 heartHeart valves and the walls of the heartBlood vessels entering and leaving the heartThe sac that surrounds the heart
The Heart Sac
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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.
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 test depending on what part of the heart needs to be viewed.
If you have the following conditions, you may need this test, rather than the standard echocardiogram: Certain lung diseasesObesity
An echocardiogram may be used to:
heart murmurDiagnose valve conditionsFind changes in the heart's structure
Assess motion of the chamber walls and damage to the heart muscle after a
heart attackAssess how different parts of the heart work in people with chronic heart diseaseDetermine if fluid is collecting around the heartIdentify growths in the heartAssess and monitor birth defectsTest blood flow through the heartAssess heart or major blood vessel damage caused by traumaTest heart function and diagnose heart and lung problems in very ill patientsAssess chest painLook for blood clots within heart chambers
There are no major complications associated with this test.
Your doctor may do the following:
Physical examElectrocardiogram (ECG, EKG)—a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
A gel is put on your chest. This gel helps the sound waves travel. A small, hand-held device called a transducer is pressed 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.
Still images or videotape moving images can be captured. To get clearer and more complete images, the transducer may be moved to different areas of your chest. You may be asked to change positions and slowly inhale, exhale, or hold your breath.
The gel is wiped from your chest.
The images are analyzed. Based on the findings, your doctor may recommend treatment or further testing.
After the test, call your doctor if you have worsening heart-related symptoms.
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Sanderson JE, Chan WW. Transoesophageal echocardiography.
Postgrad Med J. 1997;73:137-140.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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