So what is an Echocardiogram – usually referred to as Echo

We have tried to keep this simple and easy reading so you can digest it at you own pace. It sounds invasive even frightening but it isn’t. I have had to already, its a bit like ultrasound on your chest and the jelly is a little cold.

The echocardiogram test decides for sure whether or not you have heart failure. An echocardiogram is painless. A pulse of harmless, high-frequency sound waves is passed through the chest wall, and these bounce back from the structures in the heart.
For the test, you will be asked to lie on your left side with your left arm behind your head. Lubricating jelly is put on your chest, and the ultrasound probe (recorder) is placed at various points on the chest between the ribs. The probe picks up echoes from the heart and shows them on the screen as a detailed picture (echocardiogram) of the structures of the heart.
The test allows the operator to find out a lot of information about the heart, including:
• How well the valves are working, and whether any of them are damaged.
• How well the heart is working as a pump (i.e. systolic function when the beat or contraction of your heart forces blood to circulate around the body).
• How well the heart relaxes after pumping (i.e. diastolic function when the heart relaxes after each beat or contraction, allowing it to fill with blood).
• Whether there are holes in the walls between the chambers of the heart, disrupting the one-way system of blood flow and allowing blood to flow from one side to the other (intracardiac shunts).

The most important finding from an echocardiograph is usually a measurement of how well one of the chambers of your heart the left ventricle is pumping. The left ventricle pumps the blood around the body. The wall of the left ventricle is normally much thicker than the wall of the right ventricle, because the right ventricle only pumps blood to the lungs and back.
This measurement, called the left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF), is an estimate of how much of the blood that enters the left ventricle is pumped out when the heart muscle beats (contracts). In a healthy heart, about 60% of the blood entering the left ventricle gets pumped out when the heart muscle contracts. So a normal LVEF would be around 60%. A value of less than 40% would indicate that the heart is not pumping well.

Sometimes different types of echocardiogram are performed. These include:

Stress echocardiogram

This is an echocardiogram that is carried out to see how the heart functions when it has to work extra hard. It is performed by increasing the persons heart rate, either by exercise on a treadmill or exercise bike, or by special medication.

Transoesophageal echocardiography

This test is carried out when doctors need to look at your heart valves in more detail. Pictures of your heart are taken from inside your body, by passing a small probe mounted at the end of a thin flexible tube down your oesophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). Before the test, you may be given a mild sedative to help you relax, and an anaesthetic will be sprayed on the back of your throat to make you more comfortable. While the probe is in your oesophagus, pictures of your heart are taken. The probe is then gently withdrawn.