An echocardiogram (also known as
an echo) uses sound waves that echo against structures
in the heart to build up a detailed picture of the heart.
This test looks at the structure of your heart and how
well your heart functions. It is a similar sort of
scan to the ultrasound used in pregnancy.
How is an echocardiogram done?
Lubricating jelly is rubbed on the chest, and a
probe (recorder) is placed on the chest. A
pulse of high frequency sound is then passed through the
The probe picks up the echoes reflected from various parts of
the heart and shows them as an echocardiogram - a picture on the
What can an echocardiogram show?
The echocardiogram can give accurate information about the
pumping action of the heart, and about the structure of the heart
and the valves.
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
An echo is especially useful for diagnosing heart disease in
newborn babies and infants as it is painless and easy to do.
Other types of echocardiograms
Occasionally an echocardiogram is done while the heart is under
stress - by increasing the heart rate with either exercise
This test can help to diagnose coronary heart disease, heart failure and cardiomyopathy.
Transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE)
This test is used when doctors need a closer and more defined
image of the heart valves. Detailed pictures of the heart are taken
from the oesophagus (gullet), which lies behind the heart.
You may have a mild sedative to help you relax and an
anaesthetic will be sprayed on the back of your throat. You will be
asked to swallow a small probe which is mounted at the end of a
thin, flexible tube.
While the probe is in your oesophagus, it takes pictures of your
heart. Once the procedure is done the tube is then gently
Foetal echocardiograms are used to help diagnose certain heart
defects before a child is born. A foetal echocardiogram shows the
baby's heart in more detail than a normal ultrasound scan used in