Our Echocardiography Laboratory performs advanced examinations using the latest equipment, operated by skilled sonographers, and interpreted by cardiologists with special expertise in echocardiography. The Laboratory is one of only a few in Washington state to hold special accreditation by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (IAC). This accreditation is awarded to laboratories that meet designated high standards in echocardiography.  

What is an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is a safe, non invasive procedure used to create an image of your heart. This test uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound), which produce a moving picture of the beating heart. The images show the heart chambers, valves, and large arteries and veins that bring the blood to the heart and carry the blood from your heart to your body. Ultrasound is also analyzed using a technique called Doppler that shows the blood flow in the heart and across the valves. 

Why Might I Need an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is used most commonly to:

  • Evaluate the size and strength of the heart pumping chambers.
  • Detect leaking or narrowing of heart valves.
  • Check for fluid around the heart.
  • Look for blood clots or tumors within or around the heart.
  • Look for holes between heart chambers.  

Your physician may recommend an echocardiogram to:

  • Evaluate your heart function after a heart attack.
  • Find the cause of a heart murmur (a sound from your heart that may represent an abnormality).
  • Evaluate your heart valves.
  • Find a source of chest pain.  
  • Determine a cause of shortness of breath, an abnormal heart rhythm or dizziness.
  • To evaluate adult congenital abnormalities (present at birth) and assess surgical treatments.
  • To assess response to pacemaker therapy, or need for defibrillator treatment.

The echocardiogram is one of the most frequently used cardiac tests due to its ability to show a detailed picture of the heart safely and quickly. A typical echocardiogram test takes 45 to 60 minutes. 

Echocardiograms Performed at the Cardiovascular Center

Several types of echocardiograms are performed at the Cardiovascular Center, including:

  • Transthoracic echocardiogram: This is the most commonly performed echocardiogram. Patients rest on their back or side during the exam. 
  • Pediatric echocardiogram: This procedure is identical to a transthoracic echocardiogram, but is performed on children. 
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram: This test is performed using a flexible tube, which is swallowed into the esophagus (the swallowing tube connecting the throat to the stomach) and the stomach. This places the tube used to obtain the ultrasound images very near the heart, so a very detailed and accurate image can be obtained. Doppler analysis of the ultrasound signal is used to evaluate blood flow in the heart, arteries and veins. It is especially helpful in detecting enlargement of the cardiac chambers, septal defects and pericardial effusion and in assessing valvular function.
  • Stress echocardiogram: A stress echocardiogram combines an ultrasound study of the heart with an exercise or Dobutamine (medication that stimulates the heart) stress test. It allows doctors to learn how the heart functions when it is made to work harder.
  • Contrast enhanced echocardiogram: Echocardiogram images may be enhanced with the use of "microbubbles" injected during the study.  The injected material is quickly eliminated from the body.

Learn more about echocardiograms.