An echocardiogram is a test to check for problems inside and around your heart. It's often called an echocardiogram or an ECHO. Echocardiograms show what's happening, right now, in your heart. Harmless ultrasound waves are sent into the heart through the chest wall and are reflected back to the machine to create the images that you will see on the screen. The machine uses this information to create the images that you'll see on the screen. The images show your heart squeezing and relaxing, and your valves opening and closing in rhythm with your heartbeat.

Why am I having an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is performed to determine if the heart is the cause of your problem. Doctors may suggest an echocardiogram to evaluate your heart's valves, chambers and pumping function. You may have an echo if you have a heart murmur, high blood pressure or shortness of breath.

What happens during the exam?

After disrobing from the waist up and putting on a gown, you'll recline on an exam bed. Three electrodes will be attached to your chest for an electrocardiogram (ECG) at the same time. The ECG helps with the interpretation of the echocardiogram. A cardiac sonographer will perform your test. The sonographer will spread a small amount of special ultrasound gel on your chest and press a device, called a transducer, firmly against your skin. You'll be asked to roll over onto your left side and maybe breathe in a certain way.

Will it hurt?

Some patients may experience discomfort from the pressure of the transducer on the chest or abdomen. However, this discomfort is usually mild and lasts only a short time. You should tell the sonographer if you become uncomfortable during the test.

What else can I expect during the test?

The lights will be dim so the sonographer can see your heart's image on the screen more clearly. You will be able to see the screen and watch the images, which will be in both black-and-white and color. The Doppler echocardiogram uses colors to indicate the speed and direction of your blood as it flows through the heart and can detect leaking or narrowed heart valves, but just because you see color on the screen doesn't mean you have leaky valves. However, you may hear a pulsing "whoosh" sound. This is the blood flowing past the structures in your heart.

If your lungs or ribs block the view of ultrasound waves, the sonographer might suggest injection of a small amount of an intravenous contrast agent, Definity, to improve the images.

What do I need to do before the test?

No special care is needed.

How long does the test last?

Most echocardiograms take less than half an hour. You will be able to return to your room or go home right after the test.

Are there any side effects?

No. The diagnostic ultrasound is safe.

When do I get the results?

A specially trained cardiologist will interpret the images. The final report will be sent to your doctor. This may take at least a day. Your doctor will then explain the results of the echocardiogram with you.