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An echocardiogram is an ultrasound that checks the structure and function of the heart. The test uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart. An echocardiogram may also be called an echo.
Why an echocardiogram is done
An echocardiogram may be done to:
- check for any problems with the heart
- assess any effects of medicines, chemotherapy or other cancer treatments that are known to affect the heart
- determine a baseline before chemotherapy starts, to monitor the heart throughout treatment
- help decide whether you are healthy enough to have certain treatments
How an echocardiogram is done
An echocardiogram is usually done as an outpatient procedure in a hospital, medical clinic or doctor’s office. This means that you don’t stay overnight. It usually takes 20 to 45 minutes.
You will be asked to remove clothes and jewellery from the waist up. Electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors called electrodes may be placed like stickers on your chest to monitor your heart beat. You will lie on a stretcher or bed and need to stay still.
The ultrasound technologist will put a type of gel on your chest. A microphone-like instrument, called a transducer, is placed on the chest and moved around to create images of different locations and structures of the heart. You may be asked to breathe in a certain way or to roll over onto your left side to get a clear image.
You can usually return to your normal activities after the test unless you are told not to.
There are no side effects with an echocardiogram. This test shouldn’t be painful, but sometimes the pressure of the transducer on the body can be uncomfortable if it is placed on an area that is already sore.
What the results mean
The radiologist examines the pictures and prepares a report for your doctor. Your doctor will talk to you about the results and decide whether further tests, procedures, follow-up care or additional treatments are needed.
Special considerations for children
Preparing children before a test or procedure can help lower their anxiety, increase their cooperation and develop their coping skills. This includes explaining to children what will happen during the test, such as what they will see, feel and hear.
Preparing a child for an echocardiogram depends on the age and experience of the child. Find out more about helping your child cope with tests and treatments.