What is an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram, often referred to as an ECHO or cardiac ultrasound, is a sonogram of the heart. It uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart.  The picture is more detailed than a plain x-ray image and involves no radiation exposure.

How is the test performed?

A trained sonographer performs the test which is then interpreted by the cardiologist. A transducer (an instrument that transmits high-frequency sound waves) is placed on your ribs near the breast bone and is directed toward the heart.

Additional images will be taken underneath and slightly to the left of your nipple (at the apex of your heart). The transducer picks up the echoes of the sound waves and transmits them as electrical impulses. The echocardiography machine converts these impulses into moving pictures of the heart. The Doppler probe records the motion of the blood through the heart.

An echocardiogram allows doctors to see the heart beating and to see many of the structures of the heart. Occasionally, your lungs, ribs or body tissue may prevent the sound waves and echoes from providing a clear picture of heart function. If so, the sonographer may inject a small amount of liquid (contrast) through an IV to better see the inside of the heart.

How to Prepare for the Test

There is no special preparation for the test.

How will the Test Feel?

You will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist up and lie on an examination table on your back. Electrodes will be placed on your chest to allow an ECG to be done. A gel will be spread on your chest and then the transducer will be applied. You will feel a slight pressure on your chest from the transducer. You may be asked to breathe in a certain way or to roll over onto your left side.

Why is the Test Performed?

The test is performed to evaluate the valves and chambers of the heart in a noninvasive way. The echocardiogram allows doctors to diagnose, evaluate, and monitor:

  • heart murmurs
  • abnormal heart valves
  • pumping function of the heart for people with heart failure
  • damage to the heart muscle in patients who have had heart attacks
  • infection in the sac around the heart (pericarditis)
  • infection on or around the heart valves (infectious endocarditis)
  • source of a blood clot or emboli after stroke or TIA
  • congenital heart disease
  • atrial fibrillation
  • pulmonary hypertension

A normal echocardiogram reveals normal heart valves and chambers and normal heart wall movement.

Hours: Monday - Friday 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

When will I be informed of my results?

After your Echocardiogram, the Cardiologist will review and results will be sent to your physician. The average turn- around time for Echocardiogram reports at J.C. Blair is about 24 hours. If “Critical Results” are identified during the acquisition of your Echocardiogram the Cardiologist on call will be notified immediately and your physician will be notified within one hour.  Otherwise your physician will schedule an appointment with you where he or she will discuss the findings of your study.

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