Echocardiogram Frequently Asked Questions

What is an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is a test that uses ultrasound to take pictures of your heart. Cardiologists use these ultrasound images to look at the valves and chambers of your heart to see how they’re functioning and find any problems.

What happens during an echocardiogram?

The ultrasound images are taken by a technician known as a sonographer. The sonographer will ask you to undress from the waist up and lay on your left side on a special bed.

The sonographer will move a wand over your chest. This wand sends sound waves through your body and uses the echoes of those sound waves to create the images of your heart.

Some echocardiograms require the use of echo contrast. Echo contrast is a liquid that reflects ultrasound waves. When echo contrast is added to your bloodstream, it flows into your heart with your blood. Echo contrast helps cardiologists who look at images of your heart to see how well your blood flows through your heart.

Echo contrast is added to your bloodstream through an IV in your arm. If your echocardiogram requires echo contrast, you will have an IV placed in your arm at the beginning of the test.

I’m allergic to CT contrast. Can I receive echo contrast?

Yes. Echo contrast is not the same as CT contrast. Echo contrast creates tiny bubbles in your bloodstream that disappear within a few minutes. The most common side effect of echo contrast is back pain shortly after it enters the body. This happens to a small number of patients who receive it.

What happens after the test?

The ultrasound images are reviewed by a cardiologist. The cardiologist writes a report and sends it to your doctor. Then your doctor discusses the results with you.

Is an echocardiogram safe?

Yes. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to take pictures of your heart. It doesn’t expose you to radiation.

Does it matter where I go for an echocardiogram?

Yes. The technology used for echocardiograms changes frequently. It’s best to get your echocardiogram at a hospital that has the most up-to-date equipment available.

The sonographer should be trained to perform high-quality ultrasound images.

The cardiologist who reviews your echocardiogram should be well-trained in cardiac imaging.

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics has state-of-the-art equipment, and our machines and software are updated regularly.

Our sonographers are well-trained and are certified as registered diagnostic cardiac sonographers.

Our cardiologists have received special, dedicated training in cardiac imaging.

Our echocardiogram lab is accredited by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission.

Last reviewed: 
December 2019

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