echocardiogram (ECHO)

This is a noninvasive, risk-free test that uses ultrasound waves to assess cardiac structure and mobility, particularly of the valves. During the test, a small transducer is held against the chest. The transducer sends ultrasound waves that bounce off parts of the heart. A computer uses the information coming from the transducer to make an image of the heart. The image is displayed on a monitor, and it can be recorded on videotape or printed on paper.

The Echocardiogram gives doctors information about the heart, such as:

  • Size of the heart. The echo is used for measuring the size of the heart chambers, thickness of the heart muscle, and any defects.
  • Pumping strength. The test shows whether the heart is pumping at full strength or is weakened. It can also help determine whether the various parts of the heart pump equally.
  • Valve problems. The echo shows the shape and motion of the heart valves. It can help determine if a valve is narrowed or leaking and shows the severity of the valve problem.
  • Other uses. The echo may be used to detect the presence of fluid around the heart, blood clots, or masses inside the heart, and abnormal holes between the heart chambers. Sometimes, the echo is combined with an exercise or stress test to see how well the heart pumps when it is accelerated.

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