An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of your heart. This commonly used test allows your doctor to see your heart beating and pumping blood. Your doctor can use the images from an echocardiogram to identify heart disease.
Why it's done
Your doctor may suggest an echocardiogram if he or she suspects problems with the valves or chambers of your heart or if heart problems are the cause of symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain. An echocardiogram can also be used to detect congenital heart defects in unborn babies (fetal echocardiogram).
How is it done
Transthoracic echocardiogram is a standard, noninvasive echocardiogram. A technician (sonographer) spreads gel on your chest and then presses a device known as a transducer firmly against your skin, aiming an ultrasound beam through your chest to your heart. The transducer records the sound wave echoes from your heart. A computer converts the echoes into moving images on a monitor. Doppler echocardiogram is also usually performed. When sound waves bounce off blood cells moving through your heart and blood vessels, they change pitch. These changes (Doppler signals) can help your doctor measure the speed and direction of the blood flow in your heart. Doppler techniques can be used to check blood flow problems and blood pressures in the arteries of your heart that traditional ultrasound might not detect. Sometimes the blood flow shown on the monitor is colorized to help your doctor pinpoint any problems.