Patients

What is an echocardiogram?

Echocardiogram is a test in which ultrasound is used to examine the heart. An echocardiogram can be obtained in a physician’s office or in the hospital. An echocardiogram is a painless, harmless test that uses high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to examine the heart’s anatomy and function. An echocardiogram is a test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart.

The picture is much more detailed than a plain x-ray image and involves no radiation exposure.  Alternative names include: Ultrasound of the heart; Doppler ultrasound of the heart; transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE).

How long does the study last?

Depending on the image quality and the complexity of the heart condition, the study may take anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour.

Why is the test performed?

This test is done to evaluate the valves and chambers of the heart in a noninvasive way. The echocardiogram allows doctors to diagnose, evaluate, and monitor the heart valves, the heart chambers size and function, including the pumping function of the heart.

What happens during the test?

Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) is the type of echocardiogram that most people will have.

    Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) is the type of echocardiogram that most people will have.
    The cardiac sonographer who performs the examination explains the procedure and answers any questions about the test. The sonographer would not discuss results with you.
    You will be asked to remove all upper body clothing, to put on a gown with the opening to the front, and to lie down on an examining table.
    Three adhesive electrodes are attached to the chest for the electrocardiogram portion of the procedure.
    You will be asked to lie on his or her left side on the exam table.
    The sonographer then places some gel on a small plastic probe and position it on the left side of the chest.
    In order to obtain good quality images, it is necessary to apply some pressure with the probe. If the pressure creates discomfort, you should tell the sonographer.
    You will hear heart sounds when the sonographer activates the Doppler portion of the study.
    Pictures of the heart are recorded from several different locations on the chest, from the abdomen looking up and from the neck area looking down at the major vessels coming from the heart.
    Various measurements are taken, and all of the data obtained are analyzed by a cardiologist after the test is completed. Reports are sent to all doctors involved in the patient’s care.
    The cardiologist may wish to do some additional scanning before the patient leaves, to look at specific areas of the heart.
    The video or digital file of the test is retained for future reference.

Is there any preparation for this test?

There is no special preparation for this test and there are no pretest dietary restrictions. The patient should continue to take any prescribed medications before and after the test.

When will I get the results of the study?

The echo images will be reviewed by a cardiologist, and a report is then sent to your doctor, who will discuss the results with you.
Please note that the echo technologist would not discuss the results with you.

What is a stress echocardiogram?

A stress echocardiogram is a test to determine how well the heart functions under the stress of exercise. The test helps to diagnose the presence or absence of coronary artery disease (blockage of the arteries that supply the heart with oxygen). An echocardiogram is performed at rest, then during low, moderate and peak levels of exercise. The exercise is performed using a semi-supine bicycle ergometer.

What happens during the test?

The technologist will explain the procedure to you, take a brief medical history, and ask you to provide informed consent. This is required before the test can proceed.
Ten adhesive electrodes will be applied to your chest area after the sites have been cleaned with alcohol, shaved (if necessary), and mild abrasion applied.

The semi-supine bicycle ergometer will rotate you onto your left side while the sonographer takes several resting echo views of the heart. This is done by placing gel on a small plastic ultrasound probe and positioning it on the left side of your chest. To get good quality images, it is necessary to apply some pressure with the probe.

Following resting blood pressure and electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings, you will be asked to pedal a supine bicycle ergometer. On the bicycle, the resistance is very light at the beginning but will increase in difficulty every two minutes.
The effectiveness of a stress echocardiogram relies on the effort made by the patient. It is very important that you pedal as long as possible to reach the target workload. The test usually takes about ten minutes.
Your blood pressure is monitored throughout the procedure. Should a problem occur, the technologist will stop the test immediately. A nearby cardiologist will be called if necessary.
It is very important for you to tell the technologist if you experience any symptoms, such as chest pain, dizziness, unusual shortness of breath, or extreme fatigue.

Echo images will be taken at three separate times during exercise: at low level, mid-level and peak level. Each time, the technologist will rotate the supine bike bed to obtain the images.

Your blood pressure and ECG will be monitored for three to six minutes after exercise.
The ECG tracings and the echo images will be reviewed by a cardiologist, and a report is then sent to your doctor, who will discuss the results with you.