An echocardiogram is a test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart. The picture can help doctors evaluate the heart’s structures, including the muscles and valves. Doctors may be able to see a hole in the wall that divides the left and right sides of the heart or a deformity of a heart valve, for example. The test allows doctors to see heart functioning such as:
- The motion of the muscular walls in the heart’s lower chambers, which provides insight into the heart’s pumping power;
- The size of heart structures, such as valves and pumping chambers;
- The flow of blood within the heart and blood vessels (which can be seen on a color Doppler echocardiogram). Seeing blood flow helps doctors identify and assess abnormalities;
- Pressure differences between one part of the heart and another based on how quickly blood is flowing.
Echocardiography uses ultrasound waves to make a picture of structures moving inside the heart. These harmless sound waves travel from an instrument, called a transducer, placed on the chest. You cannot hear these sound waves. As the sound waves reflect back from structures in the heart to the transducer, the echocardiogram machine receives and interprets them – and creates a picture of the heart’s internal structures. As the transducer continuously emits ultrasound waves, it also receives continuous feedback from the heart. The result is a picture of the heart muscles, valves and blood vessels in live action motion.
How Is an Echocardiogram Performed?
A gel is applied to the outside of the chest of the patient as he or she lies on a table. An “echo” technician moves the transducer over the child’s chest to collect different “views” of the heart. The test takes around 45 minutes to complete.
Is an Echocardiogram Safe?
There are no known risks associated with echocardiography and ultrasound exposure.