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An echocardiogram is a scan which gives a detailed view of the structures of your heart, and which can show how well your heart is working. The scan uses a probe that sends out sound waves, which are reflected back by the muscles and tissues in your heart. These reflected waves are picked up by the probe and translated into images on a screen.
Echocardiograms can show if your heart is working as well as it should. They are particularly useful for revealing if you have an enlarged left side of the heart, or problems with your heart valves. They can also be used to investigate the causes and effects of heart murmurs and heart attacks.
How is an echocardiogram carried out?
An echocardiogram is a painless test that takes roughly 30-45 minutes. It can be carried out in one of two ways.
If your doctor is looking for an enlarged heart muscle or heart valve problems, the probe is normally placed on your chest. Lubricating jelly will be put on your chest and a small probe will be moved around on your chest. Moving the probe around will give different views of your heart.
If your doctor is looking for more detailed information about how your heart is working, a small probe will be passed down your throat so that it lies behind your heart. This means that your doctor will have a much clearer view, as your heart and ribcage will not be in the way. You will receive a sedative and/or local anaesthetic for this procedure, but it should not require an overnight stay in hospital.
What do I need to to before an echocardiogram?
If the probe is going to be placed on your chest, you do not need to do anything beforehand.
If the probe is going to be passed down your throat, you will be asked not to eat anything for a few hours before the test because you will be given a sedative. Also, you will be asked not to drive for 24 hours after the test because you may still be slightly sleepy.
For both tests you should continue to take your blood pressure medicines and any other medicines as normal.