• Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI
    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Dr. Kulick received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. He performed his residency in internal medicine at the Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and a fellowship in the section of cardiology at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.

Echocardiography Key Points

What are the key points of echocardiography?

  • Echocardiography (echo) is a painless test that uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart.
  • This test gives your doctor information about the size and shape of your heart and how well your heart's chambers and valves are working. In addition, a type of echo called Doppler ultrasound shows how well blood flows through the chambers and valves of your heart.
  • Your doctor may recommend echo if you have signs and symptoms of heart problems. The test can be used to confirm a diagnosis, determine the status of an existing problem, or help guide treatment.
  • There are several types of echo. Transthoracic and stress echo are standard types of the test. Transesophageal echo (TEE) is used if the standard tests don't produce clear results. A fetal echo is used to look at an unborn baby's heart. A three-dimensional (3D) echo may be used to help diagnose heart problems in children or plan and monitor heart valve surgery.
  • Echo is done in a doctor's office or hospital. The test usually takes up to an hour to do. A standard echo doesn't require any special preparations or followup. If you're having a TEE, you usually shouldn't eat or drink for 8 hours prior to the test.
  • During a standard echo, your doctor or sonographer will move a wand-like device called a transducer around on your chest to get pictures of your heart. During a TEE, the transducer will be put down your throat to get a better view of your heart.
  • A cardiologist (heart specialist) will review the results from your echo.
  • You usually can go back to your normal activities right after having echo. If you have TEE, you may be watched for a few hours at the doctor's office or hospital after the test.
  • Transthoracic and fetal echo have no risks. If you have TEE, some risks are associated with the medicine given to help you relax. Rarely, the tube used in TEE can cause minor throat injuries. The risks for stress echo are related to the exercise or medicine used to raise your heart rate. Serious complications from stress echo are rare.


National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Echocardiography.

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What is an echocardiogram?

The heart is a two-stage electrical pump that circulates blood throughout the body. The anatomy includes four chambers and four valves. For the heart to function normally these structures need to be intact and the heart muscle needs to beat in a coordinated fashion, so that blood flows in and out of each chamber in the proper direction.

An echocardiogram (echo=sound + card=heart + gram=drawing) is an ultrasound test that can evaluate the structures of the heart, as well as the direction of blood flow within it. Technicians specially trained in echocardiography produce the images and videos, often using a special probe or transducer that is placed in various places on the chest wall, to view the heart from different directions. Cardiologists, or heart specialists, are trained to evaluate these images to assess heart function and provide a report of the results.The echocardiogram is just one of the many tests that can be done to evaluate heart anatomy and function.

An electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) is the most common heart tracing done. Electrodes are placed on the chest wall and collect information about the electrical activity of the heart. Aside from the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat, the EKG can provide indirect evidence of blood flow within arteries to heart muscle and the thickness of heart muscle.

Cardiac catheterization is an invasive test performed by a cardiologist, where a catheter is threaded into the coronary arteries (those arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood) through the femoral artery in the groin, the radial artery in the wrist, or the brachial artery in the elbow. Dye is injected into the coronary arteries looking for blockage. In some instances, the blockage can be corrected by balloon angioplasty where a balloon is inflated at the level of blockage, re-establishing blood flow. A stent can be used to keep the artery open. This test can also assess the size and function of the heart chambers and valves, and the major arteries and veins that enter and leave the heart.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/31/2016

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