Commonly referred to as an echo, an echocardiogram is an ultrasound test for the heart. It uses sound waves to show the shape, texture, and movement of the heart valves, the size of the heart chambers and how well they work. This test also allows the doctor to analyze the direction and speed of blood flow through the heart. This test is painless and takes approximately half an hour.
During an echo, electrodes are placed on the chest; these monitor the patient’s heartbeat. The technician will move a gel-coated device firmly over your chest. This device is a transducer that sends sound waves to the heart. The sound waves bounce back to a machine and are transformed into images on a video monitor. The patient may be asked to breathe according to the technician’s directions as having air in the lungs may affect the quality of the images. If a doppler study is being performed, a test that measures the direction and speed of blood flow, you may hear a whooshing sound during the test. The images are recorded so that the doctor can review them after the test.
A Stress Echocardiogram follows the same protocols as the EKG stress test while incorporating an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram uses ultrasound to image your heart. Your heart is imaged at both the beginning of the test and at peak activity level and allows the doctor to study the wall motion of the heart’s pumping chambers before and after exercise. Stress echos can help determine whether or not certain areas of the heart muscle are getting enough oxygen-rich blood.
If a patient cannot exercise, the test can be performed with the administration of medications that “stress” the heart without exercise. This is useful for patients who cannot walk because of joint problems, have had prior strokes, or are too weak to exercise.
After the test a patient can return to their normal daily routine. The doctor will review the images produced during the echocardiogram and will discuss the results in a follow-up appointment.