What's an echocardiogram? An echocardiogram, sometimes called an echo, is a painless test that's used to check the condition of the heart. A device, called a wand or a transducer, uses sound waves to show a detailed image of the heart.
There are two types of echocardiograms: transthoracic and transesophageal.
- During a transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE), a technician spreads gel on the transducer, presses it against the patient's chest. The monitor then shows an image constructed using the echoes of the sound waves that bounced against the patient's heart.
- During a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE), the patient's throat is numbed with a sedative before a flexible tube (with a transducer in it) goes down their throat. The transesophageal echocardiogram is used, usually, when the doctor thinks that they can get better pictures with this particular procedure. Generally, because of the medication, patients aren't able to drive after a transesophageal echocardiogram, so make sure to arrange for a ride home.
A stress echo is a regular echocardiogram, except that the technician or doctor has the patient exercise before the echo is done. A stress echo can be done to check for certain heart problems that only occur during physical exercise. Sometimes the echo will be done both before, and after exercise.
Before the test
No special preparations are necessary for a transthoracic echo. Your doctor will ask you not to eat or drink after midnight on the day of a transesophageal echo, and you may have to arrange for a ride home.
What are the risks of an echo? A transthoracic echocardiogram has no known risks. A transesophageal echocardiogram has slight risk associated, including a chance of reacting to sedating medicine and possible damage to the esophagus, though this is more common for those who already have a problem with their esophagus. Speak with your provider about the risks associated with this test.
Echocardiograms can be helpful when checking for certain cardiac diseases and conditions, including abnormal heart valves, congenital heart disease, heart murmurs, pulmonary hypertension, and so on. This test helps to check how healthy the valves and chambers of your heart are.
If you have a normal echo, it means that your heart's valves and chambers and walls are moving normally.
If you have an abnormal echo, you may want additional testing with a specialist. An abnormal echo can reveal minor abnormalities or signs of some serious conditions, talk to your doctor about the results of your echocardiogram.