Echocardiography is a diagnostic test that uses ultrasound waves to produce an image of the heart muscle and the heart’s valves.
The images show the size and shape of your heart. They also show how well your heart’s chambers and valves are working.
Echocardiography is used to diagnose certain cardiovascular diseases, and is one of the most widely used diagnostic tests for heart disease.
- Look for the cause of abnormal heart sounds (murmurs or clicks), an enlarged heart, unexplained chest pains, shortness of breath, or irregular heartbeats.
- Check the thickness and movement of the heart wall.
- Look at the heart valves and check how well they work.
- See how well an artificial heart valve is working.
- Measure the size and shape of the heart’s chambers.
- Check the ability of your heart chambers to pump blood (cardiac performance). During an echocardiogram, your doctor can calculate how much blood your heart is pumping during each heartbeat (ejection fraction). You might have a low ejection fraction if you have heart failure.
- Detect a disease that affects the heart muscle and the way it pumps, such as cardiomyopathy.
- Look for blood clots and tumors inside the heart.
The patient lies bare-chested on an examination table. A special gel is spread over the chest to help the transducer make good contact and slide smoothly over the skin. The transducer, also called a probe, is a small handheld device at the end of a flexible cable. The transducer, essentially a modified microphone, is placed against the chest and directs ultrasound waves into the chest. Some of the waves get echoed (or reflected) back to the transducer. Since different tissues and blood reflect ultrasound waves differently, these sound waves can be translated into a meaningful image of the heart that can be displayed on a monitor or recorded on paper or tape. The patient does not feel the sound waves, and the entire procedure is painless.
An echocardiography examination generally lasts between 15–30 minutes.