An echocardiogram, more commonly referred to as an 'echo', is an ultrasound scan of the heart. It is used to assess the structure and function of the heart and visualise the valves, heart chambers, heart muscle and blood flow to give a detailed picture of cardiac health. Complex measurements are made from the images obtained and depending on the reason for your referral, a more focused view of some areas may be performed. An echo is used in the diagnosis of many conditions and is also used to exclude others. There are various ways an echo can be carried out but most people will have a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE).
For the TTE you will be asked to remove the clothing from the top half of your body and a gown will be offered. Three sticky pads, electrodes, are places on your chest and wires attached. These are used to monitor your heart rhythm during the test. The lighting in the room will be lowered to assist viewing of your images.
You will spend most of the scan lying on your left side, and the cardiac physiologist will position a probe with gel on it over various areas of your chest to obtain a series of images from your 'echo window'. You will lay on your back for part of the scan and may be asked to cough at certain times. During the scan, you will occasionally hear noises as blood flow is measured.
The scan usually takes about 30 minutes. Once completed the gel is wiped off the chest and you can then get dressed. The physiologist will complete the analysis and report of the echo study after you have left. If you are seeing your cardiologist immediately after the scan, the report will be ready for your appointment.
There is no special preparation for an echo and there are no after effects.