Make Sure Your Heart is Picture Perfect with an Echocardiogram

June 10, 2024

Proper heart function is, in many ways, the fulcrum of your overall health. An echocardiogram allows providers to assess your cardiac health in a non-invasive-yet-detailed way, allowing them to detect current or potential threats to your cardiac health.

But as with any procedure, no matter how non-invasive it is, many patients experience some understandable anxiety when they don’t know what to expect. At Culbertson Memorial Hospital, we want our patients to feel equipped and confident to seek out answers to their body’s health. Learn more about what exactly an echo is, what to expect during the procedure, and how you can prepare.

What is an echo?

An echocardiogram, also known as an echo, is a non-invasive test that uses ultrasound waves to provide information on your heart’s movement. These ultrasound waves bounce off heart structures such as chambers, valves and arteries, creating a detailed image of your heart. Healthcare providers can then use the findings to assess its pumping action, which is essential for diagnosing and monitoring various heart conditions, including:

How do you know if you need an echo?

There are several reasons your doctor may recommend an echocardiogram. Symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, or swelling in your legs could all be signs of some kind of heart condition that your provider may want to investigate. It is also often performed before or after a surgery or procedure. If you have already been diagnosed with a heart condition, then your doctor may recommend getting an echocardiogram on a more regular basis. Conditions such as valve disease require regular echo tests every 6-12 months.

Additionally, if you have a family history of heart disease or if you have risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, your doctor may suggest getting an echo to assess your heart health.

What can you expect during an echocardiogram?

At Culbertson Memorial Hospital, our echocardiograms are done by a trained sonographer with our imaging services department. You will be asked to disrobe from the waist up and lie down on an examination table. Both female and male patients have the option to wear a gown in order to minimize exposure.

Once you are ready on the table, the sonographer will apply gel to your chest and attach electrodes that are connected to an electrocardiograph (EKG) monitor. The EKG monitors the electrical activity of your heart during the procedure. When that is all set up, the sonographer will use a wand called a transducer, moving it over several areas of your chest in order to get images of the different parts of your heart.

The procedure is painless and typically takes about 30-45 minutes to complete. The sonographer may ask you to lie on your left side at different points or hold your breath for several seconds at a time. You may also hear a swishing sound throughout the test, which is just the sound of your blood flow getting picked up by the machine.

Every once in a while, other organs and tissues may prevent the ultrasound waves from properly bouncing off your heart and getting a clear picture. In these cases, the sonographer might inject some contrast through an IV.

How do you prepare for an echocardiogram?

Preparation for an echo is minimal since it is a noninvasive procedure. However, there are a few things you can keep in mind. It is sometimes a good idea to avoid eating or drinking since a full stomach can distort the ultrasound and impair the ultrasound’s ability to get a good image. It is also recommended that you wear comfortable clothing that allows easy access to your chest. Many patients opt to wear a simple t-shirt.

Protect Your Heart

Overall, an echocardiogram is a safe and effective way to assess your heart health. By getting an echo, you can gain valuable information about your heart function and potentially catch issues early on!

Prevention is key when it comes to heart health. Don't hesitate to take action if you are experiencing symptoms or have risk factors for heart disease. Learn more about Echocardiograms at Culbertson Memorial Hospital and contact the Imaging Department by calling (217) 322-4321, ext. 5279.