What is the test?
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart. An echocardiogram enables a doctor to examine your heart valves, determine the size of your heart, and assess how well it is functioning. The test can estimate how forcefully your heart is pumping blood, and can spot areas of the heart wall that have been injured by a previous heart attack or some other cause.
How do I prepare for the test?
No preparation is necessary.
What happens when the test is performed?
An echocardiogram can be done in a doctor's office or a hospital. You wear a hospital gown and lie on a table. After squirting some clear jelly onto your chest to help the ultrasound sensor slide around easily, a technician or doctor places the sensor (which looks like a microphone) against your skin. A picture of your heart appears on a video screen, and the technician or doctor slides the sensor back and forth on your chest to see different views of your heart. At times the volume from the machine might be turned on, transmitting a whooshing noise; this represents the sound of your heart beating and blood flowing. If your doctor wants to see your heart in action as it works hard, he or she might recommend that you have a variation on the regular echocardiogram. One variation, called an exercise echo, will have you pedal a stationary bike while the echocardiogram is done. Another variation, called a stress echo, involves having medication injected to increase your heart's blood flow before doing the echocardiogram.
What risks are there from the test?
There are no risks
Must I do anything special after the test is over?
How long it is before the result of the test is known?
If a doctor does the test, you might get some results immediately. If a technician performs the test, he or she records the echocardiogram on a videotape for a cardiologist to review later on. In this case, you'll probably receive results in several days.