Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies

Continue

Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram uses ultrasound to produce moving, real-time images of your heart. The procedure helps to check the structure of your heart and how well it's functioning.

You will meet the doctor or technician carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.

An echocardiogram (or echo) uses sound waves (known as ultrasound) to check the structure of your heart and how well it’s working. The procedure involves a doctor or technician moving an ultrasound sensor over your chest to get pictures of your heart.

Echocardiograms can help to check how well your heart is pumping blood and can identify heart defects in adults, young children, newborn babies and unborn babies (fetal echocardiogram).

Read more Close

Details

  • Preparation Preparing for an echocardiogram

    Echocardiograms are carried out in hospital by a cardiologist (a doctor specialising in conditions of the heart) or a sonographer (a technician trained in the procedure).

    Your doctor will explain how to prepare for your procedure. For example, if you're having a stress echocardiogram you may be asked not to take beta-blockers or calcium-channel blockers for 48 hours and not to eat for two hours before the test.

    Bupa On Demand

    Want to talk to a Bupa consultant? We’ll aim to get you seen the next day.

  • Alternatives What are the alternatives to an echocardiogram?

    Alternatives to an echocardiogram include the following.

    • Transoesophageal echocardiogram. This is also an echocardiogram, but involves a doctor passing the ultrasound sensor into your oesophagus (the pipe that goes from your mouth to your stomach).
    • Cardiac MRI scan. MRI is a special technique that uses powerful magnets, radio waves and computers to produce detailed images (or scans) of the inside of your heart.
    • Radionuclide test. In this test, a doctor injects a harmless, radioactive substance into your body. He or she then uses a special camera to take pictures of your heart. The radioactive substance shows up as it travels through your heart and your doctor uses this to assess your heart function and blood flow.

    Your doctor will advise you which procedure is most suitable.

  • The procedure What happens during an echocardiogram?

    An echocardiogram can take 30 to 45 minutes. You will be asked to undress to your waist and lie on your left-hand side. Your doctor or technician will place a clear gel over the left side of your chest. This is to make sure there will be a good, airtight contact between your skin and the sensor.

    The sensor is held firmly against your skin and, as it moves across your chest, sends out sound waves and picks up the returning echoes. Pictures of the inside of your heart will be displayed on a screen. These pictures are constantly updated, so the scan can show movement. The test is painless but may feel uncomfortable when the sensor is being moved over your skin.

    During the echocardiogram, you may be able to hear loud whooshing sounds. This is the sound of your blood flow and can be heard whether or not there are any abnormalities in your heart.

    Your heart rhythm will be also monitored throughout your echocardiogram.

    Stress echocardiogram

    This is when the echocardiogram is done while your heart is under stress. This helps your doctor find out how well your heart copes when it has to work harder. You may be asked to do some exercise (such as walking on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike), or take medicines to make your heart beat faster and harder.

    If you have an exercise stress echocardiogram, the exercise will be gentle at first but will get progressively more strenuous. Your doctor may take pictures of your heart while you are exercising or immediately afterwards.

    If medicines are used to increase your heart rate, you may be asked to rest for 20 minutes after the test to make sure the effects have completely worn off.

    Contrast echocardiogram

    This is when a special dye (contrast agent) is injected into your vein during the echocardiogram. The dye helps show your heart more clearly. A contrast echocardiogram can help diagnose any holes in your heart.

  • Bupa On Demand

    You don’t have to be a Bupa member to access a range of our health and wellbeing services thanks to Bupa On Demand. Find out more today.

  • Aftercare What to expect afterwards

    The results of your echocardiogram may be discussed with you immediately after the examination. Alternatively, your results may be sent to your doctor who will discuss them with you at your next appointment.

  • Recovery Recovering from an echocardiogram

    If you have an echocardiogram as an out-patient procedure, you will be able to return home after the test is completed. You will be able to continue with your day-to-day activities as usual.

  • Risks What are the risks?

    As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with an echocardiogram. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your doctor to explain how these risks apply to you.

    Side-effects

    Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure. Medicines for stress echocardiograms can sometimes make you feel sick or dizzy.

    Complications

    Complications are when problems occur during or after the procedure.

    • A standard echocardiogram is a safe procedure. There are no known complications associated with having it.
    • A stress echocardiogram can occasionally cause heart rhythm problems, headache or chest pains.
    • If contrast agent or medicines are used during the echo, there is a small risk of having an allergic reaction.

    Speak to your doctor or technician for more information.

  • FAQs FAQs

    How will the doctor know if there is a problem with my heart?

    Answer

    An echocardiogram produces detailed pictures of the structures inside your heart, helping your doctor to identify any problems.

    Explanation

    An echocardiogram produces very detailed pictures of the structures inside your heart and your doctor will look at these pictures to identify any problems.

    For example, to check how well your heart is pumping blood, your doctor will look at the size, thickness and function of your left ventricle. This is one of the lower chambers of your heart, which pumps blood that contains oxygen around your body. Looking at the size of your left ventricle and how well it’s working can show your doctor whether there is a problem with your heart’s pumping ability.

    To check for heart valve disease, your doctor will look at the shape of the valves, how they are moving and for signs of calcium deposits. Measuring how fast your blood is flowing, which makes a whooshing sound, will help your doctor to assess whether the valves have become narrowed or whether they are leaking.

    What will happen after I get the results of my echocardiogram?

    Answer

    Your doctor will help you to choose the best course of action or treatment, based on the results of your echocardiogram together with any other tests you have had done.

    Explanation

    An echocardiogram is just one test that doctors use to assess how your heart is working. You may have other tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), a chest X-ray and blood and urine tests.

    Your doctor may diagnose a problem with your heart using the results of all these tests. However, your echocardiogram may also rule out a problem with your heart, or show that you need further tests before a diagnosis can be made.

    If tests do show up a problem with your heart, your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you. Depending on the problem identified, you may be advised to take medicine or have surgery.

    Why do I need a fetal echocardiogram?

    Answer

    A fetal echocardiogram is used to get a very detailed picture of your developing baby's heart, before he or she is born. It's used to check whether your developing baby has a heart problem.

    Explanation

    In the UK, around 5,000 babies are born with congenital heart disease (heart disease from birth) each year. Half of these babies will have major heart disease, requiring surgery or intervention in the first year of life.

    It’s very important that you attend your routine ultrasound scans during pregnancy. If there's a problem with your baby's heart, it's often first noticed when you have your routine 20-week ultrasound scan.

    You will be asked to have a fetal echocardiogram if a routine 20-week scan shows up a problem, or if you have a family history of congenital heart disease, or you already have a child with heart problems.

    A fetal echocardiogram can show up abnormalities in the structure or function of the heart and problems with heart rhythm. The scan is often performed by a sonographer (or midwife) and sometimes by an obstetrician or cardiologist.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Echocardiogram. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, accessed 17 February 2012
    • Clinical indications for echocardiography. British Society of Echocardiography. www.bsecho.org, published 2009
    • Guidelines, protocols and patient information. British Society of Echocardiography. www.bsecho.org, accessed 17 February 2012
    • Chaubal NG, Chaubal J. Fetal echocardiography. Indian J Radiol Imaging 2009; 19(1):60–68. doi: 10.4103/0971-3026.44524
    • Screening. Tiny Tickers. www.tinytickers.org, accessed 17 February 2012
    • Heart failure – chronic. Prodigy. www.prodigy.clarity.co.uk, published November 2010
    • Heart failure. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, accessed 18 February 2012
    • Ejection fraction heart failure measurement. American Heart Association. www.heart.org, published June 2011
    • Aortic stenosis assessment. Stanford University. www.stanford.edu, published July 2009
    • Radionuclide tests. British Heart Foundation. www.bhf.org.uk, accessed 20 February 2012
  • Related informaton Related informaton

  • Author information Author information

    Produced by Krysta Munford, Bupa Health Information Team, April 2012.

    We welcome your feedback on this topic
    Submit an FAQ on this topic

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    We comply with the HONcode for trustworthy health information: verify here
    HON code logo
  • Plain English Campaign

    We hold the Crystal Mark, which is the seal of approval from the Plain English Campaign for clear and concise information.
    Plain English Campaign logo

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.

Readable

In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.

Reliable

We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.

Relevant

We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Don’t just take our word for it. Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information.

  • HONcode

    We comply with the HONcode (Health on the Net) for trustworthy health information. Certified by the HONcode for trustworthy health information.

  • Plain English Campaign

    Our website is approved by the Plain English Campaign and carries their Crystal Mark for clear information. In 2010, we won the award for best website.

    Website approved by Plain English Campaign.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: healthinfo@bupa.com. Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Bupa House
15-19 Bloomsbury Way
London
WC1A 2BA

Find out more Close

Legal Disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

^ Calls may be recorded and may be monitored.