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(Echo; Heart Ultrasound; Ultrasound of the Heart)

En Español (Spanish Version)


High-frequency sound waves (called ultrasound) are used to exam the size, shape, and motion of the heart.

In addition to the standard test, there are specialized echocardiograms:


Parts of the Body Involved

  • Chest
  • Heart

Reasons for Procedure

The test shows:

  • Four chambers of the heart
  • Valves
  • Blood vessels entering and leaving the heart
  • Sac that surrounds the heart

The Heart Sac

 heart sac vessels

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

The procedure is most often done to:

  • Evaluate a heart murmur
  • Diagnose and determine the extent of valve conditions
  • Find abnormalities in the heart's structure
  • Measure the size and thickness of the heart and its chambers
  • Assess motion of the chamber walls and the extent of damage to the heart muscle after a heart attack
  • Assess how different parts of the heart are functioning in people with chronic heart disease
  • Determine if fluid is collecting around the heart
  • Identify the presence of tumors in the heart
  • Assess and monitor congenital defects
  • Evaluate a response to treatment or procedure
  • Evaluate blood flow through the heart
  • Assess if the heart or major blood vessels have been damaged by a traumatic injury
  • Evaluate heart function and diagnose heart and lungs abnormalities in critically ill patients
  • Evaluate chest pain
  • Evaluate for presence of blood clots within heart chambers

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

If you have the following conditions, you may need transesophageal echocardiography, rather than the standard echocardiogram:

  • Barrel chest
  • Certain lung diseases
  • Obesity

Evidence to date shows no risk from standard echocardiograms.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

You're doctor will most likely do the following:

  • Physical exam
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) —a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle


None. With the endoscopic test, you may be given a mild sedative.

Description of the Standard Procedure

A gel is applied to your chest. This gel helps the sound waves to travel. The technician then presses a small, hand-held device (called a transducer) against your skin. The transducer sends high-frequency sound waves toward your heart. The sound waves are then reflected back to the device. The waves are converted into electrical impulses. These impulses become an image on the screen.

The technician can capture a still image or videotape moving images. To obtain clearer and more complete images, the technician may move the transducer to different areas of your chest. You may be asked to change positions and slowly inhale, exhale, or hold your breath.

After Procedure

The gel is removed from your chest.

How Long Will It Take?

30-60 minutes

Will It Hurt?


Possible Complications


Average Hospital Stay


Postoperative Care

You can return to normal activities.


The images are analyzed by a specialist. Based on these findings, your doctor will make recommendations for treatment.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Worsening of heart-related symptoms


American Heart Association

American Society of Echocardiography


Heart Healthy Kit: Public Health Agency of Canada

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


Echocardiography. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: . Updated March 2007. Accessed July 28, 2008.

Heart damage detection. American Heart Association website. Available at: . Accessed July 28, 2008.

Huttemann E. Transoesophageal echocardiography in critical care. Minerva Anestesiol . 2006;72:891-913.

Medical encyclopedia: echocardiogram. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus website. Available at: . Updated April 2007. Accessed July 28, 2008.

The most common heart ultrasound: transthoracic echocardiogram. American Society of Echocardiography website. Available at: . Updated April 2007. Accessed July 28, 2008.

Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: . Accessed July 28, 2008.

Sanderson JE, Chan WW. Transoesophageal echocardiography. Postgrad Med J . 1997;73:137-140.

Last reviewed November 2007 by J. Peter Oettgen, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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