What is an echocardiogram? — An echocardiogram, also called an "echo," is an imaging test that creates pictures of your heart as it beats. During an echo, a doctor, nurse, or technician uses a thick wand, called a "transducer" or "probe," to send sound waves into the heart. The sound waves create images that show the size of the heart chambers, how well the heart pumps, and how well the heart valves work.
An echo can be done in 2 main ways:
Sometimes, doctors do a test called a "stress test" along with a TTE. A stress test measures how well the heart works when it pumps very fast. When the heart pumps fast, it needs more blood. A stress test shows if the heart gets enough blood during these times. When a stress test is done with an echo, it's called a "stress echo."
Why might my doctor order an echo? — Your doctor might order an echo to:
Your doctor might order a stress echo to:
How do I prepare for an echo? — It depends on how the echo is done.
What happens during an echo? — Before the echo starts, the doctor, nurse, or technician will put some stickers on your chest to monitor your heartbeat.
For a TTE, you will lie on your back or left side. The doctor, nurse, or technician will put a small amount of gel on your chest. Then he or she will press the transducer against your chest and move it around. He or she might ask you to hold your breath or change positions during the test. Images of your heart will appear on a computer screen.
If you have a stress echo, the doctor, nurse, or technician will do an echo while you are resting. Then he or she will "stress" your heart and raise your heart rate with one of the following:
Immediately after these, while your heart is still pumping fast, he or she will do another echo.
For a TEE, you will have an IV (needle) put in your arm or hand. Your doctor will give you medicines through the IV to make you feel relaxed. He or she will give you a mouth spray or gargle to numb your throat. Then he or she will put a thin tube with a transducer on the end down your throat and into your esophagus. He or she will press the transducer against the esophagus wall to create images of the heart.
What are the downsides of an echo? — It depends on the type of echo.
A stress echo can also have downsides. But they are caused by the stress test and not by the echo. When people exercise and their heart pumps very fast, they can have symptoms that include: