ECHO (cardiac ultrasound)

An echocardiogram – also known as an echo – uses sound waves to build up a detailed picture of your heart. It is a very common test in cardiology and is similar to the ultrasound scan used in pregnancy.The echo looks at the structure of your heart and the heart valves, and also gives information on the function and pumping action of your heart. It can be a useful test if you have recently had a heart attack or if you have heart failure. It is also used routinely to assess people with heart valve problems or congenital heart disease.

You will have the test in a private room, because you’ll need to take the top half of your clothes off – you can wear a hospital gown if that makes you feel more comfortable. You will lie on a bed and lubricating jelly will be rubbed onto your chest to help the probe make good contact with your skin. The probe will be placed in different areas of your chest and gives off pulses of high frequency sound waves which pass through your skin to your heart. The ultrasound waves ‘echo’ against the structures of your heart and the probe picks up these reflections and shows them in pictures on the screen of the echo machine. You can see different parts of the heart as the probe is moved around on your chest. The test usually takes 20-30 minutes. It’s a safe and easy test, and most people find it’s not uncomfortable at all.