What is an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram (also called an echo) is a three dimensional moving image of your heart. An echo uses Doppler Ultrasound technology. It is similar to the ultrasound test done on pregnant women. The echo machine emits sound waves at a frequency that people can't hear. The waves pass over the chest through the heart. The waves reflect or "echo" off of the heart, showing:

  • The shape and size of your heart
  • How well the heart valves are working
  • How well the heart chambers are contracting
  • The ejection fraction (EF), or how much blood your heart pumps with each beat.

What can I expect?

When you have an echocardiogram, you undress from the waist up, put on a hospital gown, and lie on an exam table. The technician then moves a pen-like instrument (called a transducer) around your chest or side. The transducer records the echoes of the sound waves. At the same time, a moving picture of your heart is shown on a special monitor. You may be asked to hold your breath briefly so that the technician can get a good image of your heart. An echo is a painless test. You feel only light pressure on your skin as the transducer moves back and forth.