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An echocardiogram (echo) is an ultrasound image that creates a graphic outline of the heart’s movement. It can be used to help doctors diagnose a range of heart conditions, including damage from a heart attack, heart failure, congenital heart disease, chamber enlargement and more.

Why do people need an echocardiogram?

Echocardiograms are used to look at the heart structure and check how well the heart functions. The test may also be used to:

  • Assess the overall function of the heart and how well the heart is pumping blood
  • Determine the presence of several types of heart disease in adults
  • Locate blood clots or tumors
  • Assess the pressure in the heart
  • Identify congenital heart abnormalities in infants and children

Echocardiograms are done in a doctor’s office or hospital and are performed by specially trained technicians. The test usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes. 

The echo test will take place in a darkened room so that the technician can see the test monitor better. The patient will lie on an exam table, and the technician will place sticky patches called electrodes on the patient’s chest. These electrodes monitor the heart rhythm through an electrocardiogram, or EKG.

The technician will then place gel on the patient’s chest to help sound waves pass through the skin. A small device called a transducer will be passed across the patient’s chest, over the heart, moving back and forth. The transducer produces sound waves that bounce off the heart and “echo” back to the transducer. The sound waves transform into pictures and are displayed on a video monitor. 

The doctor will have the results of the echocardiogram in about a week to go over the results.