An echocardiogram is a test that creates moving images of the heart using sound waves. The images show the size and shape of the heart, and also reveal how effectively the chambers and valves of the heart are functioning.
An echocardiogram can identify which parts of the heart aren't contracting properly due to lack of blood flow or injury. One type of echocardiogram, the Doppler ultrasound, is specially designed to show how the blood moves through the chambers and valves within the heart. Echocardiograms can identify blood clots within the heart and can locate fluid buildup in the heart. This test can also reveal issues with the aorta, the primary artery that is responsible for delivery of oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
The doctor may recommend an echocardiogram for patients who are exhibiting signs of heart issues. For example, leg swelling, shortness of breath, chest pain, and other potential indicators of heart failure may lead to an echocardiogram. Patients who have unusual heart sounds during examination (heart murmurs) may need an echocardiogram to determine whether there is actually a heart problem. An echocardiogram can reveal damage of many kinds, so it is an invaluable diagnostic tool for cardiologists.
Generally, no special preparations are required for an echocardiogram. However, patients who are having a stress echocardiogram may need to prepare by fasting or taking other steps. Patients will normally wear a gown, as they will be naked from the waist up. During the test, patients lay on their back or left side. Gel is applied to the chest and the physician or sonographer will then move the transducer over the chest to get the heart images. The echocardiogram usually takes less than an hour and doesn't cause any pain. Patients can generally return to their usual routine as soon as the echocardiogram is complete.