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What Is Echocardiography?

Echocardiography, also called an echo test or heart ultrasound, is a test that takes “moving pictures” of the heart with sound waves. You don’t have to stay in the hospital. It’s not surgery and doesn’t hurt.
Why do I need echo test?
Your doctor may use an echo test to look at your heart’s structure and check how well your heart is working.
This test may be needed if...
• You have a heart murmur.
• You’ve had a heart attack.
• You have unexplained chest pains.
• You’ve had rheumatic fever.
• You have a congenital heart defect.
How is it done?
Echo tests are done by trained sonographers. You may have your test done in your doctor’s office, an emergency room, an operating room, a hospital clinic or a hospital room.
• You’ll lie on a bed on your left side or back.
• The sonographer will put special jelly on a probe and move it over your chest area.
• Ultra-high-frequency sound waves will pick up images of your heart and valves. No X-rays will be used.
• Your heart’s movements can be seen on a video screen.
• A videotape or a photograph can be made of the pictures.
• You can sometimes watch during the test.
• It usually takes one hour.
• It’s painless and has no side effects.
Sometimes the probe needs to be closer to your heart to give clearer pictures. You may need a special test called transesophageal echocardiography (TEE).
• As you swallow, a cardiologist will gently pass a tube with a probe on the end of it down your throat and into the esophagus. (This is the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach.)
• Sound waves will pick up images as explained above.
• When the test is finished, the cardiologist will gently pull the probe out.
• You may feel a need to cough.
What can the test show?
• The size and shape of your heart
• How well your heart is working overall
• If a wall or section of heart muscle is weak and not working correctly
• If you have problems with your heart’s valves
• If you have a blood clot
What happens after the echo?
• Your sonographer will help you clean the gel from your chest.
• Your doctor will talk with you after looking at your echo pictures and discuss what the pictures show.
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