An echocardiogram is an ultrasound image of the heart. It can help doctors diagnose a range of heart problems.
Doctors use echocardiograms to help them diagnose heart problems, such as damaged cardiac tissue, chamber enlargement, stiffening of the heart muscle, blood clots in the heart, fluid around the heart, and damaged or poorly functioning heart valves.
In this article, we explain how doctors use echocardiograms, what to expect during the test, and how to interpret the results.
What is an echocardiogram?
Echocardiography uses ultrasound waves to create a picture of the heart, called an echocardiogram (echo).
It is a noninvasive medical procedure that produces no radiation and does not typically cause side effects.
During an echocardiogram, a doctor can see:
- the size and thickness of the chambers
- how the valves of the heart are functioning
- the direction of blood flow through the heart
- any blood clots in the heart
- areas of damaged or weak cardiac muscle tissue
- problems affecting the pericardium, which is the fluid filled sac around the heart
Doctors also use echocardiography when they want to examine a person’s general heart health, especially after a heart attack or stroke.
What are they used for?
Doctors can use echocardiograms to:
determine how well the heart is pumping blood
assess the reasons for an abnormal electrical test of the heart, called an electrocardiogram (EKG)
diagnose heart disease — including weak pumping or stiffening of the heart muscle, leaky or blocked heart valves, and chamber enlargement — in adults
locate blood clots or tumors
assess the pressure in the heart to diagnose a condition called pulmonary hypertension
identify congenital heart abnormalities in infants and young children
monitor how well the heart responds to different heart treatments, such as heart failure medications, artificial valves, and pacemakers
A doctor will order an echocardiogram if they suspect that someone has heart problems. Signs and symptoms that may indicate a heart condition include:
an irregular heartbeat
shortness of breath
high or low blood pressure
abnormal EKG results
unusual sounds between heartbeats, known as heart murmursTrusted Source
Types of Echocardiogram
Doctors can order different types of echocardiogram, all of which use high frequency sound waves. The common types include those below.
The transthoracic echocardiogram is the most commonTrusted Source type of echocardiogram test.
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