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An echocardiogram is a noninvasive, risk-free test that uses ultrasound waves to assess cardiac structure and mobility, particularly of the valves. During the test, a small transducer is held against the chest. The transducer sends ultrasound waves that bounce off parts of the heart. A computer uses the information coming from the transducer to make an image of the heart. The image is displayed on a monitor, and it can be recorded on videotape or printed on paper.
The echocardiogram usually combines three different techniques. The M-mode echo produces an image that looks more like a tracing than a heart (as shown in image at left). The M-mode echo helps measure the size of the heart chambers.
The two-dimensional (2-D) echo shows the actual shape and motion of the different heart structures. The images represent "slices" of the heart in motion.
The Doppler echo allows doctors to assess the flow of blood through the heart. You may hear a swooshing or pulsating sound with this test. This is not the actual sound of your heart, but an amplified computerized audio signal.
There is no special preparation for echocardiography. You may eat and go about your normal activities, unless you are told otherwise. Make sure you wear a two-piece outfit because you will be instructed to undress from the waist up and wear a hospital gown.
You will lie on a hospital stretcher. Electrodes (small sticky patches) are placed on the chest and shoulders to monitor the heartbeat. You will need to lie quietly during the test on your left side with your head elevated slightly. An odorless water-soluble gel is applied to the chest. An Echo Tech moves the transducer over the chest to obtain different views of your heart. You may be asked to change positions and to exhale or hold your breath for a few seconds. The images are recorded on videotape and printed on paper. The Echo Tech is not authorized to give you your results. The doctor will either be present during the test, or you may be able to get the results before you leave. Otherwise, your doctor will discuss the results with you during an office visit.
The echocardiogram gives doctors information about the heart, such as:
Non-Invasive Cardiology Testing Center
The test is painless and takes 45 minutes to complete.