An echocardiogram allows your doctor to examine the structure of your heart such as your heart walls, chambers and arteries in order to see how it functions. An echocardiogram also allows your doctor to examine the speed at which blood is pumped through your heart.

At The London Clinic, our highly trained team of cardiologists and technicians perform echocardiograms to diagnose problems with your heart. There are several different types of echocardiogram, and your doctor will recommend the test most suitable to you given your individual circumstances.

How does an echocardiogram work?

An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound examination where sound waves are used to produce a moving image of your heart.

Why have an echocardiogram?

There are several reasons why your doctor may recommend that you have an echocardiogram:

  • If your doctor suspects there is a problem with your heart structure that is affecting its ability to pump.
  • To look for damage in your heart valves, chambers or arteries.
  • To check for heart defects in your new-born or unborn baby.
  • If you’ve had a heart attack or heart failure, and your doctor wants to check how your heart has recovered.

An echocardiogram – what to expect

An echocardiogram can be performed both as an outpatient procedure, or if you’re already in hospital for another procedure such as heart surgery. The test won’t hurt and you will just feel the gentle pressure of an ultrasound probe on the chest wall. It takes around 40 minutes to do a detailed ultrasound study of the structure of the heart.

To begin, your doctor will apply a clear gel to the skin on your chest. He will then run an ultrasound probe over your chest, which produces high frequency sound waves. These sound waves will pass into your body and bounce off the surface of your heart and back into the probe. These waves are then compiled into a moving image of your heart which is projected onto a computer screen.

After an echocardiogram

If your doctor finds no problem with your heart from the echocardiogram, you won’t need any further tests. If he or she finds a problem during the test, they may refer you to a heart specialist for more tests. You may need to have another echocardiogram in a few months, or other CT tests to properly diagnose a heart condition.

Different types of echocardiogram

Besides the standard test described above, there are also several other types of echocardiogram:

  • Transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE): this test produces images of your heart from a probe inside your oesophagus, which means that your lungs and ribcage don’t obstruct the image. For this procedure, you may be given a local anaesthetic and then be asked to swallow a small probe attached to a flexible tube. This test is done as a day case so you can have your investigation and then go home the same day.
  • A stress echocardiogram: this is carried out when your heart is under stress, such as when you’ve been exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike. If you can’t exercise, you may be given medicine to stimulate stress on your heart. This test can help to diagnose coronary heart disease.
  • Doppler echocardiogram: this test measures how fast the blood flows through your heart and how well your heart valves are functioning. This is done by measuring the change in pitch when the sound waves bounce off the blood moving through your heart and blood vessels.