What is an Echocardiogram? 

An echocardiogram, or echo, is a noninvasive procedure that uses ultrasound to show how your heart muscle and valves are working. During this procedure, moving pictures are created of your heart, capturing its size and shape.

Why Would Someone Need an Echocardiogram?

Your physician may order an echocardiogram in order to:

  • Look for heart disease
  • Monitor heart valve disease
  • See how medical or surgical treatments are working

Types of Tests

There are different types of echocardiograms. Your doctor will discuss which one is best for you.

Transthoracic echocardiogram

This is the standard echo procedure. It’s similar to an X-ray, but doesn’t use radiation. Instead, a hand-held device called a transducer is used. It’s placed on your chest and sends high-frequency sound waves bouncing off your heart, which create images.

Transesophageal echocardiogram

In this procedure, the transducer goes down your throat and into your esophagus. Due to its proximity to your heart, it can get a picture.

Doppler echocardiogram

A Doppler echocardiogram uses very high frequency sound waves bouncing off the heart and blood vessels to create photos. These photos shoe blood flowing through the heart and arteries.

Stress echocardiogram

This test is performed while you exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike. It will show the movement of your heat’s wall and pumping as it works hard. This test can also show a lack of blood flow that may not appear on other tests.

How to Prepare

In general, following your normal routine is how to prepare for an echocardiogram test. This is true of a transthoracic echo. However, if you are having a transesophageal echocardiogram, your doctor will ask that you not eat for several hours beforehand and you’ll need to arrange for a ride home following your procedure.

Echocardiogram Procedure

An echocardiogram will take place in a doctor’s office or hospital. It will be performed by a technician and last about 40 minutes. Here’s what you can expect when you go for your echocardiogram procedure:

  • You’ll undress from the waist up and lie on a table
  • The technician will place small metal disks called electrodes on your chest
  • The disks will have wires attached to an electrocardiogram machine to keep track of your heartbeat during the test
  • The technician will put gel on the disks to help the sound waves travel better
  • The transducer will be passed across your chest, helping to create sound waves
  • The sound waves create pictures on the monitor that are recorded for your doctor to review later


Your doctor will review the images captured in the echo and explain the results to you. An echocardiogram may show information including:

  • Changes in heart size
  • Pumping strength
  • Heart muscle damage
  • Heart valve issues
  • Heart defects