An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of your heart.
What is an echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram, or “echo”, is an ultrasound of your heart. Sound waves from your heart are converted to detailed pictures of:
- Structures, such as valves
There are several types of echo, including:
- Transthoracic echo or “TTE” – looks at the heart from the front of the chest
- Stress echocardiogram or “Stress Echo” – done during or soon after exercise to see how your heart responds to stress caused by exercise
- Transoesophageal echocardiography or “TOE” – looks at the heart from inside your oesophagus and gives a clearer view than a regular echo
Why do I need an echocardiogram?
Your doctor may perform an echo if you have signs and symptoms of heart problems, such as:
- Heart failure
- Heart murmurs
- Congenital heart defects – for example, a hole in the heart
Your echo results can reveal:
- How your heart muscle is pumping
- The size of your heart
- How your valves are working
- If there is any fluid around your heart
- If there are any blood clots inside your heart
- If there are any problems with your heart’s major blood vessels such as your aorta
Below, you can watch an animation explaining what happens during an echocardiogram:
What are the risks of having an echocardiogram?
The echo is a safe, painless procedure which carries minimal risk. If you have a TOE, you may have a sore throat for a few hours after the test.
How do I prepare for an echocardiogram?
If you’re having a regular echo, there’s nothing special you need to do to prepare. You can eat and drink normally before the test, and continue to take any medication.
If you’re having a stress echo, you may be asked to stop taking one or more of your medications for a day or two before and on the day of the test. If you’re having a TOE, you’re usually required to fast for 8 hours before the test. You’ll also need to remove any dentures.
What happens during an echocardiogram?
Before the echo begins, you’ll be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up, put on a hospital gown and lie on the echo table. During the procedure:
- Sticky dots will be attached to your chest to monitor your heart
- Gel will be applied to your chest
- A probe called a transducer is moved around on your chest
- You may be asked to hold your breath and lie on your side
- The room lights will be dimmed
- Images of your heart will be seen on a computer screen
- The images will be recorded and given to your doctor for review
During a TOE, you may be given medicine to help you relax using a cannula in your arm. The back of your mouth will be numbed with spray before the doctor gently places the tube with the transducer into your throat and down through your oesophagus.
What happens after an echocardiogram?
If you’re feeling well, you can return to your normal activities immediately after an echo procedure. If you have had a TOE, you may need to be watched for a few hours after the test. You will need to wait until the throat numbing medication has worn off, and do a sip test one hour after the test, before you can eat or drink. If you are able to leave on the day of the test, you will need to arrange for someone to take you home. Your doctor will make a follow-up appointment with you to discuss the results of your echo and determine the best treatment for you.