Echocardiogram, also known as an echo test, is a non-invasive diagnostic test that uses sound waves to create images of the heart. It is a valuable tool in diagnosing heart conditions and assessing heart function. In this article, we will discuss what an echocardiogram is, how it works, and what to expect during the test.
What is an Echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is a diagnostic test that uses sound waves to create images of the heart. It is similar to an ultrasound, but instead of imaging a baby in the womb, it images the heart. The sound waves bounce off the heart and create a picture, which is then displayed on a screen. This picture allows doctors to see the heart’s structure, size, and function.
How Does an Echocardiogram Work?
During an echocardiogram, a technician places a transducer on the patient’s chest. The transducer emits sound waves that bounce off the heart and create an image. The technician moves the transducer around the chest to get images from different angles. The images are then sent to a computer and displayed on a screen. The doctor can use these images to evaluate the heart’s structure, function, and blood flow.
Types of Echocardiograms
There are several types of echocardiograms, including:
- Transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE): This is the most common type of echocardiogram. It is a non-invasive test that is performed by placing a transducer on the chest.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): This test is similar to a TTE, but the transducer is inserted into the esophagus to get closer to the heart.
- Stress echocardiogram: This test is performed while the patient is exercising or taking medication to increase the heart rate. It helps doctors evaluate the heart’s response to stress.
Why is an Echocardiogram Performed?
An echocardiogram may be performed for several reasons, including:
- To diagnose heart conditions such as heart disease, valve problems, and heart defects
- To monitor heart conditions and assess treatment effectiveness
- To evaluate heart function before surgery
- To assess heart function after a heart attack or other cardiac event
What to Expect During an Echocardiogram?
During an echocardiogram, the patient lies on a table while a technician places a transducer on their chest. The technician may ask the patient to change positions or hold their breath during the test. The test is painless and usually takes less than an hour to complete.
What are Normal Echocardiogram Results?
The results of an echocardiogram are interpreted by a doctor. The doctor will evaluate the images to determine if the heart is functioning normally or if there are any abnormalities. Some of the measurements that are evaluated include:
Ejection fraction: This measures how much blood is pumped out of the heart with each beat. A normal ejection fraction is between 50-70%.
Chamber size: The size of the heart’s chambers can be measured to evaluate if they are within normal range.
Valves: The function of the heart’s valves can be evaluated to determine if they are working properly.
Below is a table of the normal ranges for some of the measurements that may be evaluated during an echocardiogram. Note that the normal ranges may vary slightly depending on the laboratory and the reference values used. Your doctor will interpret the results of your echocardiogram and explain what they mean for your heart health.
|Left Ventricular End-Diastolic Volume (LVEDV)||50-130 mL|
|Left Ventricular End-Systolic Volume (LVESV)||20-60 mL|
|Left Ventricular Stroke Volume (LVSV)||25-75 mL|
|Left Ventricular Cardiac Output (LVCO)||4.0-8.0 L/min|
|Left Ventricular Mass (LVM)||71-115 g/m2 for women; 77-124 g/m2 for men|
|Left Ventricular Ejection Time (LVET)||240-400 ms|
|Left Ventricular Wall Thickness||0.6-1.1 cm|
|Left Atrial Size||1.5-4.0 cm|
|Right Atrial Size||2.0-4.0 cm|
|Right Ventricular Size||2.0-4.0 cm|
|Aortic Root Diameter||2.0-3.7 cm|
|Mitral Valve E/A Ratio||0.8-1.5|
|Tricuspid Valve E/A Ratio||0.6-1.0|
Is an echocardiogram a safe test?
Yes, echocardiogram is a safe and non-invasive test. It uses sound waves instead of radiation, making it a safer option than other imaging tests.
Do I need to prepare for an echocardiogram?
Usually, no special preparation is required for a transthoracic echocardiogram. However, if a transesophageal echocardiogram is needed, the patient may need to fast for several hours before the test.
Can I eat or drink before an echocardiogram?
Yes, you can eat and drink before an echocardiogram unless instructed otherwise by your doctor.
Is an echocardiogram painful?
No, an echocardiogram is a painless test.
Can I have an echocardiogram if I have a pacemaker or defibrillator?
Yes, in most cases, having a pacemaker or defibrillator does not prevent a patient from having an echocardiogram.
An echocardiogram is a valuable tool in diagnosing heart conditions and assessing heart function. It is a safe and non-invasive test that uses sound waves to create images of the heart. There are several types of echocardiograms, including transthoracic echocardiogram, transesophageal echocardiogram, and stress echocardiogram. The test is painless and usually takes less than an hour to complete. Normal ranges for some of the measurements that may be evaluated during an echocardiogram are provided in the table above. If you have any concerns about your heart health, speak with your doctor to determine if an echocardiogram is appropriate for you.
Lang, R. M., Badano, L. P., Mor-Avi, V., Afilalo, J., Armstrong, A., Ernande, L., … & Flachskampf, F. A. (2015). Recommendations for cardiac chamber quantification by echocardiography in adults: an update from the American Society of Echocardiography and the European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging. Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography, 28(1), 1-39. doi: 10.1016/j.echo.2014.10.003
American Society of Echocardiography. (2021). Guidelines and Standards. Retrieved March 18, 2023, from https://www.asecho.org/guidelines/
Zoghbi, W. A., Adams, D., Bonow, R. O., Enriquez-Sarano, M., Foster, E., Grayburn, P. A., … & Lang, R. M. (2017). Recommendations for noninvasive evaluation of native valvular regurgitation: a report from the American Society of Echocardiography Developed in Collaboration with the Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance. Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography, 30(4), 303-371. doi: 10.1016/j.echo.2017.01.007