A Guide to Prepare You
What is an echocardiogram (echo)?
This is a test that uses sound waves to look
at the heart. It is a safe and painless way to
view the heart for problems.
How does it work?
A small device, called a transducer, is held
against the chest. This sends sound waves
that bounce off the heart.
A computer uses the information from the
transducer to create a picture of the heart.
The picture is shown on a TV screen. It can
be saved on CD.
The echo consists of:
ξ Two-dimensional echo - This shows
the true shape and motion of the
different heart structures. These
pictures represent “slices” of the
heart in motion.
ξ Doppler echo - This allows doctors
to see how the blood flows though
the heart. The signals that represent
blood flow are shown as a series of
black-and-white tracings. They can
be seen as color pictures on the TV
screen. During a Doppler echo, you
may hear a whooshing sound. This
is not the sound of your heart. It is a
signal that the machine sends.
Why is the echo done?
The echo test gives doctors useful
information about your heart.
ξ Size of the heart: The echo is used
to measure the size of the heart
chambers and thickness of the heart
ξ Pumping strength: The test shows
whether the heart is pumping at full
strength or if it is weakened. It can
also tell whether all the parts of the
heart pump the same.
ξ Valve problems: The echo shows
the shape and motion of the heart
valves. It can help tell if a valve is
narrowed or leaking.
ξ Other uses: The test may be used to
see if there is fluid around the heart,
blood clots, or a mass inside the
heart, or holes between heart
chambers. In some of these cases, an
IV may need to be placed in the hand
or arm. This allows staff to give an
injection of agitated saline or an
imaging enhancement agent through
your IV to read any abnormalities in
your heart. The echo may be done
with an exercise test, to see how well
the heart pumps when made to work
harder. This is called a stress echo.
Before your echo
You do not need to do anything special to
get ready for this test. You may eat and go
about your normal routines, unless you are
told otherwise. Make sure you wear a two-
piece outfit. The echo may be done at the
hospital or clinic.
What happens during the test?
You will be asked to undress from the waist
up and put on a short hospital gown.
Electrodes (small sticky patches) are placed
on your chest and shoulders to record your
You then lie on a special exam table. To
help take better pictures, a clear gel is
applied to the area where the transducer will
be placed. The gel will feel cool and moist.
The gel will be wiped off at the end of the
A sonographer moves the transducer over
the chest to obtain many views of the heart.
They may ask you to change your position.
Air in your lungs can affect the echo
pictures. You may be asked to exhale or
hold your breath for a few seconds.
The pictures are recorded digitally so the
doctor can review them later.
How long does it take?
An echo exam takes about 60 minutes
depending on the number of views required.
Be sure to allow extra time to check in.
When the test is over, you may eat and
return to your normal routine.
Is the echo safe?
The echo test is very safe. There are no
known risks from the sound waves. The test
is painless. You may feel slight pressure
when the transducer is held against your
What are the benefits?
The echo test gives information about the
heart’s structure and blood flow.
Sometimes it is hard to get a good picture
in patients that have a broad chest, are
overweight, or have a chronic lung disease
(such as emphysema). In such cases, an IV
will need to be placed in the hand or arm.
This IV allows staff to inject an image
Your test results
All the images are reviewed by a
cardiologist (heart doctor) the next business
days and a report is sent to your primary
doctor. Your primary doctor will contact
you with results within 1-2 weeks. The
results of the echo test will help your doctor
know how your heart is working and
develop a treatment plan that is best for you.
A copy of the echo report is not sent to your
UW My Chart account.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 9/2017 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5490