An echocardiogram--or echo--is a diagnostic test used to take pictures of the heart and surrounding blood vessels. It is more detailed than an X-ray and uses sound waves versus radiation.
The echocardiogram is a non-invasive, painless procedure which uses a transducer to transmit high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) within the heart chambers and valves. These waves bounce throughout the heart area and produce the images that detect heart damage and/or disease.
The primary use of an echocardiogram is to measure structure and function of the heart. Physicians will suggest this procedure for patients who exhibit a heart murmur (abnormal heart sound), angina (chest pain), arrhythmia (abnormal heart beat), abnormal X-ray and for patients with symptoms of heart failure.
There are several different types of echocardiogram to include one-dimensional, two-dimensional, three-dimensional, doppler ultrasound, doppler tissue imaging, stress echocardiogram and transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE).
The results of the echocardiogram are either normal or abnormal. If abnormal, this can be an indication of heart valve disease, pericardial effusion (fluid around the heart), cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle) or other various heart abnormalities.
There are no known risk factors during an echocardiogram. During a chemical stress test, side effects can occur from the medication. Headache, nausea, irregular heart beat and chest pain are the most common reported side effects.