Echocardiogram - Patient Procedure Description

What is it?

An echocardiogram is an exam of the heart's blood flow, valve function, pumping action and chamber size done by using ultrasound technology.

Ultrasound procedures involve the use of very high frequency sound waves that cannot be heard by the human ear. The sound waves are sent into the body using a hand held instrument called a transducer. The various structures in the body including organs, tissue and fluids (such as blood and water) reflect sound waves differently because of their different density. Some of the sound waves reflect back to the transducer much like your voice echoes back to you in an empty building. The reflected sound waves are received by the transducer and sent to a computer to be processed into pictures.

What will happen to me?

The sonographer (the person who operates the ultrasound machine) will assist you as you lie on your back on a padded table. A warm gel will be spread on your chest. The gel improves the ability to send and receive the sound waves between the transducer and your body. The sonographer moves the transducer over your chest while frequently changing the position and angle of the transducer. This action guides the sound waves to specific parts of the heart so that pictures can be taken. The sonographer may ask you to change positions or hold your breath for short periods of time.

How long will this test take?

This ultrasound procedure usually takes 90 minutes to complete.

What will I feel? Will it hurt?

Usually the ultrasound room lights are turned down to darken the room. This helps the sonographer to see the video screen better. Ultrasound procedures are not painful. You will feel some pressure as the sonographer presses the transducer against your chest. During part of the exam, you will hear a loud "swishing" sound as the ultrasound machine tracks the direction and speed of blood flow within the heart.

What will the test show?

Ultrasound can see the blood flow in the heart chambers, the heart valves as they open and close and the wall motion as the heart expands and contracts to pump blood. Changes in these heart functions and the overall performance of the heart can be determined by this ultrasound procedure.

How do I get ready?

There is no preparation required for this procedure.