An echocardiogram uses an ultrasound machine to take a scan of your heart. It is carried out by a specially qualified technician and is sometimes just called an 'echo'.
Ultrasound machines detect sounds that are so high frequency they cannot be heard by humans. It is called an echocardiogram because the sound 'bounces' back from the heart tissue to give an accurate picture of the heart.
For example, ultrasound passes easily through fluid so there is little echo from the blood in the heart. The amount of ultrasound which echoes back depends on the thickness of the tissue that the sound has hit. However, heart valves are more solid, so the ultrasound waves hitting a valve will send back a clear picture of it.
Some abnormalities can be seen quite clearly. For example, damaged heart valves, thickened heart muscle and some congenital heart problems (present from birth).
You do not need to make any special preparations for your echocardiogram.
You may eat and drink normally before and after the test. Continue to take your usual medication. However, please tell the reception staff about your medication when you arrive so that they can record it in your notes. Some medications may affect the normal rhythm of the heart and our doctors need to be aware of this when looking at your results.
If you have any questions or need advice, please contact us on the number provided in the letter confirming your appointment.
If you need help because you speak a different language, please let us know when you book your appointment.
Please arrive 15 minutes before your appointment time; if you are late we may not be able to carry out your test. Please do not bring children to your appointment.
You will need to undress down to the waist and lie on the couch. A probe is placed on your chest (it is a bit like a very thick blunt pen). Also, lubricating jelly is put on your chest so the probe makes good contact with the skin. A female assistant will always be present. They can stay with you during the examination should you require.
An echocardiogram will usually take between 15 minutes and half an hour. In some circumstances, a more detailed scan may be needed which may take 45 minutes.
The doctor who referred you will receive the echocardiogram report and images. You should telephone to confirm that they have received your report before arranging an appointment, unless the doctor has made different arrangements with you.
Are There any Side Effects?
An echocardiogram is painless and harmless.