What is an echocardiogram (echo)?

An echocardiogram, or echo, is a type of ultrasound or sonogram imaging test. It uses a transducing device that translates sound wave echoes into moving images of the heart. Your doctor uses an echocardiogram to look at the heart’s size and structure, and to see how well it pumps blood. 

An echocardiogram evaluates many heart problems, including heart murmurs, heart failure, and heart valve disease.

An echocardiogram is only one method used to monitor and diagnose heart conditions. Discuss all of your diagnostic options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.    

Types of echocardiogram

The types of echocardiogram include:

  • Standard transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) makes moving pictures of your heart while you are at rest. It uses a painless, wand-like instrument, called a transducer, on your chest. It is the most common type of echocardiogram. Your doctor may also perform an EKG (electrocardiogram) during your echocardiogram to evaluate your heart’s electrical activity during the test.

  • Stress echocardiogram involves performing an echocardiogram during a cardiac stress test. A cardiac stress test shows how exercising on a treadmill affects your heart. If you cannot tolerate walking on a treadmill, the doctor will give you a medication called dobutamine to mimic the effect of exercise on the heart.

  • Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) involves passing a special, much smaller transducer down your throat to take moving pictures of your heart. A transesophageal echocardiogram produces clearer pictures than other types of echocardiograms.

  • Doppler echocardiogram records the flow of blood through the heart.

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 12, 2013

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Medical References

  1. Echocardiogram. HeartSite.com. http://www.heartsite.com/html/echocardiogram.html.
  2. Echocardiogram. American College of Cardiology. http://cardiosmart.org/HeartDisease/CTT.aspx?id=176.
  3. Stress Echocardiography. Texas Heart Institute. http://www.texasheartinstitute.org/HIC/Topics/Diag/disecho.cfm.

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