An echocardiogram is an ultrasound examination of the heart. By sending a high frequency sound that is undetected by the human ear, the sound waves are reflected from the structures of the heart and received by the machine that generate moving pictures which represent the heart walls and valves.
Reflected sounds from moving blood cells inside the heart are represented by colour that show the direction and the speed of the blood flowing through the heart that helps us to assess the heart function and the state of the heart valves.
An echocardiogram is being done to assess different symptoms like shortness of breath, faints, funny turns, chest discomfort including angina, for people with previous heart attacks to assess the heart function.
It is also occasionally done for people suffering from high blood pressure, who have had abnormal ECG, or have been found to have heart murmurs (noises heard by the clinicians caused by blood flowing through the heart valves).
No special preparation is required, please take your tablets as usual.
You can have light meal before you attend. Be prepared to spend up to one hour during the attendance.
When you attend the health care assistant or the nurse may check your blood pressure, taken ECGs and check your height and weight if these measurements have not been done recently in our clinic. The doctor and the health care assistant will advice you to remove your clothing from the waist upwards. Ladies will be provided by a modesty sheet and a chaperone will be in attendance.
ECG electrodes (wires) will be applied to the chest wall to obtain an electrical heart trace while the test is done. You will be asked to lie on your left side on the examinations couch for about 20-40 minutes. An ultrasound gel will be applied on the chest wall, this may feel a little bit cold. Then an ultrasound probe ( small microphone in the size of a large pen) will be applied externally on the chest wall at different locations, the upper part of the abdomen – tummy and base of the neck in turn. During the examination, the light will be dimmed to gain a clearer view of the scan monitor.
The probe application is usually gentle; however, firm pressure may be necessary to obtain clearer pictures. If this proves uncomfortable please inform us immediately. During the examination, you may be asked to hold your breath and/or change your position. A Doppler test is usually performed and a sound signal representing the blood flow through the heart valves will be heard usually like a whooshing sound.
After the examination, the ECG wires will be gently removed; we will help you to wipe the ultrasound gel off the chest skin using clean disposable paper tissue. Then you will be helped to get off the examination couch.
The test is totally non invasive, no needles or tubes required. Adverse effects may include the discomfort of lying on the left side for 20-40 minutes, if you can not stay for the length of time on your side please inform us before we start the test. The pressure of the probe may cause tenderness of the chest wall as described above.
If you particularly bruise easily please let us know.
Ultrasound is considered very safe in pregnancy as it does not use X ray radiation.
During the examination, we may explain some of the findings of the study and a discussion of the results following the test and recommendation and further management may be provisionally given. However, further readings are taken later and a report is compiled.
The report with the recommendations will be sent to your doctor and you will receive a copy of the report also for your own information and record keeping. Please do not worry about the technical terms as usually at the end of the report, there is some explanation in an easily understandable plan of management .
You can discuss the findings with your doctor and we will be very happy to clarify any unclear points.