Echocardiography uses sound waves to make moving pictures of your heart.
The experts at UPMC’s Advanced Cardiac Imaging Program use the latest in echocardiography technology to diagnose, treat, and monitor a range of conditions.
What Is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram, also called an echo, is a type of test that uses sound waves, sent through a small device called a transducer, to make moving pictures of your heart.
An echocardiogram can show if your heart, heart valves, and the amount of blood your heart pumps out are normal, or if you have heart disease or another heart condition.
What is an echocardiogram used for?
You might need an echocardiogram if you have:
Types of Echocardiograms
There are different types of echocardiogram tests, including:
- Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE): The most common type, in which a technologist moves a transducer across your chest to make pictures of your heart.
- Stress echocardiogram: Measures blood flow to and from your heart before and after activity or medicine-induced stress.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): A doctor inserts a probe into your esophagus to take pictures of your heart.
- Doppler echocardiogram: Shows how blood moves through your heart chambers and valves. A Doppler echocardiogram may be part of a TTE, stress echo, or TEE.
How to Prepare for Your Echocardiogram
Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE): How to prepare
- TEE requires no special preparations.
Stress echocardioram: How to prepare
- Do not eat a heavy meal for four hours before your test to avoid feeling sick to your stomach while you exercise.
- Wear flat, comfortable shoes and loose, lightweight clothing.
- Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to take your regular medications prior to your test.
Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): How to prepare
- Do not eat or drink for 6 hours prior to your test.
- Tell the echocardiography staff if you have dentures or dental prostheses, or medical problems of the throat, esophagus, or stomach.
- You will not be able to drive for 12 hours following the test, so make sure you have someone to give you a ride home.
If more specific instructions are necessary, your doctor will provide them before your test.
What to Expect During Your Echocardiogram
Before the test, you will remove any clothing above your waist and put on a hospital gown.
You may receive an IV that injects contrast material in order to get a better picture of your heart. The contrast material does not contain iodine and will not injure the kidneys.
Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE): What to expect
- A technologist will place sticky patches (called electrodes) on your chest to keep track of your heart’s rate, rhythm, and electrical activity in a recording called an electrocardiogram (EKG).
- You will lie on your left side, and the technologist will put gel on your chest, which may feel cold.
- The technologist will press a small device called a transducer against your chest and move it back and forth to take pictures of your heart.
- You will need to lie still and may need to hold your breath for very short periods during the test.
- The test usually takes about 30-60 minutes.
Stress echocardiogram: What to expect
- A technologist will take a TTE before activity or medicine-induced stress.
- You will walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike to make your heart work harder.
- If you cannot exercise, you will get an infusion of medicine called dobutamine through an IV to make your heart work harder.
- The technologist monitors your heart’s rate, rhythm, and electrical activity through an EKG throughout the activity or stress portion of the test.
- After activity or stress, the technologist will take another TTE will be taken.
- The test usually takes about 60 minutes.
Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): What to expect
- To relax your gag reflex, the technologist will spray your throat with an anesthetic.
- You will receive medicine via an IV placed in your arm to help you relax and be comfortable during the test.
- We will monitor your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and the amount of oxygen in your blood throughout the test.
- You will lie on your left side, and your doctor will guide a narrow, lubricated probe into your mouth and down into your esophagus to the level of your heart.
- The test usually takes about 1 hour, but the probe is only in place for 10 to 20 minutes.
Common results of an echocardiogram include:
- Normal results mean that your heart chambers and valves are working properly, the amount of blood your heart pumps is normal, there is no extra fluid around your heart, and no tumors or blood clots are present.
- Abnormal results can vary depending on your specific condition and may include that your heart chambers or valves are not working properly, the amount of blood your heart pumps is not enough to support your body’s needs, there is extra fluid around your heart, or a tumor or blood clot is present.
Common Echocardiogram Side Effects and Risks
Echocardiograms are generally safe, but like any medical procedure, there can be some risks.
Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) risks and side effects
- TTE does not have any known risks or side effects.
Stress echocardiogram risks and side effects
- You may have chest pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath while you exercise or after you are given an infusion of dobutamine.
- An abnormal heart rhythm can occur from exercise or dobutamine, which usually goes away when the test is over.
- In rare cases, a heart attack can occur (1 in 1,000 cases).
Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) risks and side effects
- You may experience:
- Discomfort in your mouth or throat
- Minor throat bleeding
- Trouble breathing
- In rare cases, the probe may tear or puncture your esophagus.
- Contrast agents used for echocardiograms have a 1 in 10,000 risk of series allergic reaction.
How Much Does an Echocardiogram Cost?
The cost of an echocardiogram varies depending on your insurance provider. Please call the physician’s office to verify insurance coverage and cost.