Echocardiography uses sound waves to assess the heart’s function and structures.
During the procedure, a transducer (like a microphone) sends out sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. The ultrasonic sound waves move through the skin and other body tissues to the heart, where they echo off of the heart structures. The transducer picks up the reflected waves and sends them to a computer, which translates the echoes into either still or moving images of the heart walls and valves.
The “normal” heart looks different on echocardiograms of men and women. Brigham and Women’s radiologists are aware of the differences and take them into account when reading women’s echos.
What to Expect:
- The test will take less than an hour.
- A dim room helps technicians clearly see monitors.
- You’ll hear loud whooshing and slapping sounds.
- You’ll feel some pressure from the transducer.
Listen and Learn:Detailed information on echocardiogram, including the reasons and preparation for the procedure, how the procedure is performed, and after care. (MP3 Audio File) >
There are three basic types of echocardiography, and more than one can be performed during a single procedure.
- M-mode produces an image that is similar to a tracing rather than an actual picture of heart structures. M-mode echo is useful for measuring heart structures, such as the heart’s pumping chambers, the size of the heart itself and the thickness of the heart walls.
- Doppler is used to measure and assess the flow of blood through the heart’s chambers and valves. It can indicate the amount of blood pumped out with each beat, which can indicate a problem with one or more of the heart’s four valves or with the heart’s walls.
- Two-dimensional visualizes the real-time motion of the heart’s structures, enabling physicians to see how well the heart’s valves and chambers are performing.
Preparing for an Echocardiogram
There is usually nothing to do before your appointment. When you are called into the echocardiography suite, you will be given a gown to wear and may be asked to remove your clothing above the waist and any jewelry or other objects that may interfere with the procedure. You will then be shown to a darkened room where you will lie on a table or bed, positioned on your left side. A pillow or wedge may be placed behind your back for support.
Having an Echocardiogram
You will be connected to an ECG monitor that records the electrical activity of the heart and monitors the heart during the procedure using small, adhesive electrodes. The ECG tracings that record the electrical activity of the heart will be compared to the images displayed on the echocardiogram monitor. The technologist will place warmed gel on your chest and then place the transducer probe on the gel. You will feel a slight pressure as the technologist positions the transducer to get the desired image of your heart.
During the test, the technologist will move the transducer probe around and apply varying amounts of pressure to obtain images of different locations and structures of your heart. The amount of pressure behind the probe should not be uncomfortable; if it is, let the technologist know. As the technologist moves the probe you may hear a series of beeps, and, in the case of Doppler, swooshing or slapping noises, which are amplifications of the sounds made by your heart and the blood streaming through it. The technologist will be watching the images in the monitor as he or she moves the probe over your heart.
After the procedure has been completed, the technologist will wipe the gel from your chest and remove the ECG electrode pads. You may get dressed and leave.
Learning Your Results
A radiologist will interpret the results of your exam and will send a summary to your doctor. In a few days your doctor will explain and discuss them with you.
Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011
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