Echocardiography or heart ultrasound is a safe and noninvasive test that helps a cardiologist visualize anatomy and function of the heart. Purpose of an echocardiogram is to visualize chambers, valves, major vessels that enter (veins) and exit (arteries) the heart, blood flow and function of the heart. There are different types of echocardiography, including, fetal, transthoracic, and transesophageal echocardiograms. Fetal and transthoracic echocardiography can be usually performed in the office. However, transesophageal echocardiography is typically performed in the hospital under sedation/anesthesia. 
Echocardiography Q & A

What is echocardiography?

Echocardiography is a noninvasive diagnostic procedure, similar to an ultrasound, that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the heart and the surrounding blood vessels and tissues. The echocardiogram is painless and the patient is typically lying down in a comfortable position. An echocardiogram is a safe procedure without any risks. The examination typically takes place in a darkened room to optimize visualization of the images. The echocardiography usually takes up to 20-40 minutes to perform.

What is a transthoracic echocardiogram?

The transthoracic echocardiogram is a noninvasive diagnostic procedure. During the test, you or your child lies on their back or left side. There are multiple stickers or ECG used to monitor the heartbeat during the test. Specialized gel is applied on the chest to optimize visualization of the heart. As the transducer moves across the chest, it releases sound waves that echo back from the heart and tissues to generate the data. Then the transducer collects the information and transmits it to a computer that converts the data into images. During the exam, the transducer will be moved across different regions of the chest to get pictures of the heart from different angles.

What is a transesophageal echocardiogram? 

A transesophageal echocardiogram is performed at the hospital under sedation/anesthesia. This type of echocardiogram is needed if the heart cannot be adequately visualized by a transthoracic echocardiogram. During transesophageal echocardiography, a probe that is shaped like a thin tube is inserted into the mouth and through the esophagus to position the small imaging transducer behind the heart. At this position, the transesophageal echocardiograms can generate very clear and detailed pictures of the heart. The procedure is not painful, but you might have a sore throat for a few hours after the test. 

How do I prepare for an echocardiogram?

Transthoracic echocardiography typically does not require any special preparation. The person getting the echocardiogram should wear a shirt that can be easily taken off for the test. Alternatively a gown will be available. Be aware that the room lights are dimmed for better evaluation of the images. You can bring a movie to watch while the echocardiogram is being performed. You do not need to do anything special to prepare. However, if your cardiologist has recommended transesophageal echocardiography, then sedation will be required, and your child shouldn’t eat or drink anything for up to six hours before their test.

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