Echocardiography

What is it?

Echocardiography

Echocardiography, also known as an Echocardiogram, is a procedure that sends ultrasound waves (like sonar) into the chest to create moving pictures of the heart. You may only think of ultrasound being used to monitor a baby's growth, but ultrasound waves can also show the size of the heart's chambers and how well they are working. This simple, painless test often provides valuable information about damage to a heart and also helps gather information about a heart with irregular beats (arrhythmia).

An Echocardiogram is used to evaluate heart wall thickness and motion, as well as the structure and function of the heart valves. A hand-held device placed on the chest uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to produce images of your heart's size, structure and motion.

Reason for Test

  • Provides valuable information about the health of your heart.
  • Helps gather information about heart muscle function, valve function, the lining of the heart, as well as the pressures and capacities of the heart. This can help determine the cause of your symptoms, as well as the future risk of various cardiac disorders to develop an effective strategy for management.

How should I prepare for it?

Bring a list of all present medications.

No caffeine (no tea, coffee, decaffeinated products, chocolate, soda pop or medications containing caffeine) 4 hours prior to the test.

Do not apply any body lotion or oil to your skin before the appointment, as this makes it difficult to obtain high-quality images.

What will happen during the test?

You will be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up and given a gown to wear.

Several electrode pads will be placed on your chest and shoulders to monitor your heartbeat.

You will be asked to lie down on an examination table on your left side. In order to obtain clearer pictures, a colourless, water-based gel will be applied to your chest. The gel may feel cool but will not harm your skin and will be removed at the end of the test.

The technologist will hold a transducer on your chest to obtain different views of the heart. Sound waves are sent through the transducer and are reflected off the various structures of the heart to produce an image on the video monitor. You may or may not hear a "whoosh" sound while the pictures are being taken.

The transducer must be pressed firmly against your chest by the technologist, in order to obtain better quality images and this pressure may be uncomfortable, especially over your ribs.

You may be asked to change your position or hold your breath at times during the test in order to take pictures of different areas of your heart.

A written report will be sent to your physician upon completion of the test. Your physician will then explain the test results to you.

Answers to common questions

How long will the test last? The test lasts approximately 20 - 60 minutes depending on the number of images to be obtained.

Will I experience any discomfort? You should feel no major discomfort during the test. However, in certain instances, the transducer must be held very firmly by the technologist against your chest and this pressure can be uncomfortable, especially over your ribs.

Should I discontinue my medications? Do not discontinue your usual medications unless instructed to do so by your physician.

Is there a cost to me for the test? No. If you have OHIP coverage, as long as the test is ordered for a medical condition, there is no charge to you for the test. Sometimes the test is ordered for an insurance assessment or ministry of transportation request etc., under such circumstances, there may be a charge to you or your insurance company for the test since it was not ordered for a medical indication by your doctor.

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