What is an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is an ultrasound scan of the heart. It is sometimes just called an 'ECHO'. Ultrasound is a very high-frequency sound that you cannot hear, but it can be emitted and detected by special machines. The scan can give accurate pictures of the heart muscle, the heart chambers, and structures within the heart such as the valves.

Why is an echocardiogram done?

An ECHO can be carried out for many different reasons. It may be done to check how well your heart is working after a heart attack, or to look at how well the valves are moving inside the heart. An ECHO can also help to see any fluid that may have collected around the heart.

What happens during the test?

You will need to undress to the waist and lie on the couch. Lubricating jelly is put onto your chest so the ultrasound probe makes good contact with the skin. The probe is connected by a wire to the ultrasound machine and monitor. Ultrasound waves bounce of structures in the heart and these are displayed in real time on the monitor. The test is painless and takes about 20-30 minutes. You do not need any special preparation before the test unless instructed to do so.

Transoesophageal echocardiography

In this test you swallow a probe that is attached to a thin tube connecting it to the ultrasound machine. This views the heart from within the oesophagus (gullet) which lies just behind the heart. This can give a clearer view of the heart than normal echocardiography. It is done in situations where a very detailed picture is needed.