What is an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram (or "echo" for short) is an imaging test that uses ultrasound to take real-time pictures of the beating heart. Ultrasound is a very safe and painless way of using high-frequency sound echoes to make pictures of what is inside the body. An echocardiogram can check the size, thickness, and movement of the heart muscle. It can show how blood is flowing within the heart and whether the valves in the heart are working properly. It is sometimes used to check for heart defects or blood clots. It can show fluid building up around the heart or can be used to measure how much blood the heart is pumping with each beat.

The procedure for an echocardiogram is very simple. You will go into a room in a hospital or clinic, remove your shirt, and lay down on a table. If you are also having an EKG (electrocardiogram), small sticky pads with wires will be applied to your chest area. An EKG measures the electric activity of your heart to go along with the ultrasound (echo) information. A clear gel is applied to the skin of your chest to remove any air bubbles between your skin and the machine that provides the ultrasound. Then, a technician moves an ultrasound transducer wand over your chest to gather the image of your heart. It normally takes 15 - 30 minutes and is painless.
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