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Quick Facts

Echocardiography and Other Ultrasound Procedures

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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What is echocardiography?

Echocardiography is also sometimes called an echocardiogram or an echo. An echo is an ultrasound of your heart. Sound waves bounce off your heart to create a moving image of your heart. This test is painless, harmless, and quick.

The main types of echos are two-dimensional, three-dimensional, Doppler, and color Doppler. The process of getting these tests is the same, but each test shows the doctor something different. Your doctor will tell you which test is right for you.

Why would I need an echo?

You may need an echo if your doctor suspects certain kinds of heart problems such as:

Symptoms of such problems include chest pain, trouble breathing, lightheadedness, and swollen legs.

How is an echo done?

  • The ultrasound technician will put some gel onto your chest — the gel helps sound waves pass from the machine into your body

  • The technician holds the ultrasound device (wand) against your chest

  • The device sends out high-pitched sound waves that echo (bounce) off your heart

  • Theses echoes are turned into a video picture of your heart

If doctors need to get a clearer look at certain parts of your heart, they may place an ultrasound device down your throat. This procedure is called transesophageal echocardiography. Before you have this test, you'll be given a medicine to numb your throat and another medicine to help you relax.

Are there any side effects to an echo?

Echos done with the ultrasound device held against your chest don't hurt at all. There are no side effects. You can't hear the sound waves.

Echos done with the ultrasound device down your throat can make you gag. Your doctor puts medicine in your throat to numb it. Other medicine will be given to make you sleepy. Your throat may feel a little sore after the test.

What can my doctor learn from my echo?

An echo lets doctors check:

  • If the heart muscle is moving normally

  • If enough blood is pumping out with each heart beat

  • If your heart is enlarged

  • If the valves in your heart are working normally

  • If fluid is building up around your heart

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