Preparing for an echocardiogram
Echocardiograms can be carried out in a clinic or in hospital by a cardiologist (a doctor specialising in conditions of the heart) or a technician trained in the procedure (a sonographer).
Echocardiogram equipment is portable, so the machine can be wheeled to your bedside if you're in hospital and unwell.
Before your echocardiogram, you can eat and drink as usual and take any medication you would normally have. If you're having a stress echocardiogram, you may be asked not to eat for four hours before the test and to stop taking certain medicines before the procedure.
What happens during an echocardiogram
The test normally takes around 40 minutes. At the hospital, you will be asked to undress to the waist. The doctor or technician will then ask you to lie on your left-hand side and will rub a clear gel over the left side of your chest. This is to make sure there will be a good, airtight contact between your skin and the probe. As the probe is moved across your chest, ultrasound waves will pass into your body and bounce off the different structures in your heart, and back into the probe. The test shouldn't hurt but it may feel uncomfortable when the probe is being moved over your skin.
The echocardiogram machine creates a moving image of your heart on a screen. If a doctor is doing the test, he or she may be able to tell you straight away how your heart is functioning and whether everything looks normal.
This is carried out in exactly the same way as a standard echocardiogram, except that your heart will be examined while it's under stress. This is achieved by:
- asking you to take exercise, such as walking on a treadmill, and then doing the echocardiogram afterwards
- injecting increasing amounts of medicine into your vein, which makes your heart work harder while the echocardiogram is carried out
A stress echocardiogram takes about an hour. Your blood pressure and heart will be monitored throughout the test.
The doctor will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen, and you can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks, benefits and any alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead, which you may be asked to do by signing a consent form.
What to expect afterwards
The results of your echocardiogram may be discussed with you immediately after the examination. Alternatively, your results may be sent to the doctor who requested you have the test, who will discuss them with you at your next appointment.