The echocardiograph, or echo, is a noninvasive test that provides cardiologists with a survey of the heart using ultrasound technology similar to that used for pregnant women. The echo allows cardiologists to examine the size of a patient’s heart and the condition of the patient’s valves to determine how efficiently the heart contracts. Echos also reveal common congenital problems and possible causes for murmurs, palpitations, chest pain and shortness of breath.
A technician called a sonographer, who spreads a gel over the chest to make sure that the ultrasound transducer maintains good contact with the skin, performs the echo. During the exam, the sonographer will take moving pictures of the heart, record images of the heart beating, and examine the direction of blood flow. Based on the results of this 45-60-minute test, cardiologists determine if you will need more invasive tests.
During a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE), a technician obtains views of the heart by moving a small instrument called a transducer to different locations on the chest or abdominal wall. A transducer, which resembles a microphone, sends sound waves into the chest and picks up echos that reflect off different parts of the heart.
During a TTE, you will lie on your back or on your left side on a bed or table.
- Small patches (electrodes) will be taped to your arms and legs to record your heart rate during the test.
- A small amount of gel will be rubbed on the left side of your chest to help pick up the sound waves.
- The transducer is pressed firmly against your chest and moved slowly back and forth.
- The echos from the transducer are sent to a video monitor that records pictures of your heart for later viewing and evaluation.
- The room is usually darkened to help the technician see the pictures on the monitor.
- At times you will be asked to hold very still, breathe in and out very slowly, hold your breath, or lie on your left side.
- The technician will move the transducer to different areas on your chest that provide specific views of your heart.
- The test usually takes from 45 to 60 minutes.