28th July 2018

Our specialist helpline nurse Jayne Partidge recently posted about echocardioagrams on our closed Facebook group. Read her post here.


An echocardiogram also known as an 'echo' uses high frequency sound waves to build up a picture of your heart. The echo gives accurate pictures of the heart muscle, the hearts chambers and structures within the heart such as the heart valves.

An echo can be performed for many different reasons it may be done to check how well your heart is working or to look at how the valves in the heart are moving. An echocardiogram can help to look for fluid that may have collected around the heart.

During the test you will need to undress to the waist and lie on a couch. A probe is placed on your chest (like a large thick pen) and jelly is placed onto your chest so that the probe can make good contact with your skin. The probe will be placed in different areas of your chest, the probe gives off very high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) which then bounce back (echo) from the heart and the structures within the heart.

The amount of ultrasound that echoes back depends on the density of the tissue of the structures within the heart. The echoes are detected by the probe and are displayed on the monitor as pictures. The pictures are constantly updated so the scan can show movement as well as structure. The scan will look at different angles of structures and some abnormalities can be seen quite clearly for example heart valves and thickened heart muscle.

The test is painless and lasts around 15 - 45 minutes, you can eat and drink normally before the test and take your usual medication unless you are told otherwise.

Other forms of Echocardiogram:

  • Doppler echocardiograms can measure variations in blood flow in different parts of the heart, it can detect abnormal blood flow next to a damaged valve.
  • A stress echocardiogram is performed whilst the heart is under 'stress' by increasing the heart rate with either exercise or medication this is performed to diagnose coronary artery disease, heart failure or cardiomyopathy.
  • A bubble echocardiogram is performed whilst a small amount of salt water is injected into your blood stream through a vein in your arm. The water contains tiny bubbles and can be useful in identifying a hole in the heart or other heart defect, the test is quick and painless and the bubbles are harmless.
  • Transoesophageal Echocardiogram (TOE) is used to obtain more detailed pictures of the heart from your eesophagus (the tube which connects your mouth to your stomach) which lies behind your heart. The test is used to get closer and more defined images of the valves as it can detect things that are too small to be seen on a regular echo. You will lie on your side and be asked to swallow a small probe which is mounted on the end of a flexible tube. To help you an anaesthetic will be sprayed onto the back of your throat and you may also be given a light sedative to help you relax. Ultrasound waves are then sent through your throat to your heart this usually takes around 20 minutes and the tube and probe are gently withdrawn, it can feel slightly unpleasant but should not be painful.

In some cases it may be possible for the person carrying out the test to discuss the results with you. However the results from the scan will need to be analysed before being sent to the doctor or nurse who requested the test. Your doctor or nurse will discuss the results of the test with you at your next appointment.

Any questions which you have about your echocardiogram should be discussed with your GP, specialist nurse or cardiologist at your next appointment as results should be interpreted with your clinical history and previous investigations.