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FAQ: Echocardigram (Echo)

What is Ultrasound?

Ultrasound is a diagnostic procedure that uses high frequency sound waves to observe bodily organs, blood vessels and movement within. While ultrasound equipment is very sophisticated, the procedure itself is simple and painless. The ultrasound machine uses a transducer or probe to transmit pulses of sound waves via a coupling or acoustic gel. The gel is required for good contact to allow the passage of ultrasound to the body. Slight pressure is also used to improve contact. From certain structures the sound waves are reflected, which are received by the probe and returned to the ultrasound machine. This information can then be interpreted into moving images that can be seen on a TV screen, or audible sounds. The images may then be sent to computer for reviewing or recorded on to videotape so your own doctor may view a study.


What is an Echocardiogram?

Commonly referred to as Echo, the study is an effective diagnostic tool using ultrasound to assess the heart and important vessels. 2D Echo is created by two-dimensional slices which are a composite of many ultrasound beams closely aligned together. This technique can be used to measure size of the heart chambers, valve motions and the forceful contractions of the heart. Doppler ultrasound is also used to measure velocity of blood flow through the heart and its direction. An audible 'swishing' sound is heard as the machine interprets the Doppler information, which is not a sound made directly from your heart. An Echo may also used to assess reported symptoms which may not seem directly related to your heart such as; swelling of the ankles, shortness of breath or stroke.


What should I expect?
How long will it take?
Where will it be done?

The procedure requires very little from you and when you are comfortable on the examination bed sticky dots (ECG electrodes) are placed to the chest and shoulders and connected via leads to the ultrasound machine. These can assess the heart's rhythm and indicate the phases in the cardiac cycle of filling and emptying of the heart. A colourless gel is placed on a transducer and you will be aware of light pressure being applied as this is placed on the chest. The technician may ask you to hold you breath or guide you in rolling on to one side so the heart may be clearly seen from behind the ribs and lungs. The standard Echo study will take roughly one hour to complete. Feel free to voice your concerns or any questions to the technician.

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