What is an echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram, or echo, is a noninvasive, diagnostic test that uses high frequency sound waves to provide a picture of the heart's movement, valves, and chambers. An echo is essentially the same as a pregnancy ultrasound, except instead of seeing the baby you see the heart. There are several different types of echocardiograms; the most common ones for diagnosing heart disease are:
- M-mode - gives a one-dimensional view of the heart as if a line were drawn through it
- 2-dimensional (2-D) or 3-D - show the length and width of the structures in the heart
- Doppler - measures blood flow through the heart and blood vessels
A woman having an echocardiogram test.
What is a stress echocardiogram?
Some heart problems only show up when the heart is working hard (or stressed). A stress echocardiogram is done while you exercise to see if there are any areas of your heart that do not get enough blood and oxygen when under stress. In women unable to exercise, a chemical stress echo may be performed using chemicals that mimic the effect of exercise on the heart.
Who might have an echocardiogram?
Echocardiograms are generally used in women with symptoms suggestive of heart disease such as chest pain or shortness of breath, or those at risk for heart disease who had previous abnormal tests such as an ECG. Echo is also used to diagnose heart rhythm problems and heart murmur.