Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School
An echocardiogram can be done in a doctor's office or a hospital. You wear a hospital gown and lie on a table. After squirting some clear jelly onto your chest to help the ultrasound sensor slide around easily, a technician or doctor places the sensor (which looks like a microphone) against your skin.
A picture of your heart appears on a video screen. The technician or doctor slides the sensor back and forth on your chest to see different views of your heart. At times the volume from the machine might be turned on, transmitting a whooshing noise. This represents the sound of your heart beating and blood flowing.
If your doctor wants to see your heart in action as it works hard, he or she might recommend that you have a variation on the regular echocardiogram. One variation, called an exercise echo, will have you pedal a stationary bike while the echocardiogram is done. Another variation, called a stress echo, involves having medication injected to increase your heart's blood flow before doing the echocardiogram. During both of these tests, your EKG and vital signs are continuously monitored.
During some echocardiogram tests, a technician will place an IV in your arm or hand and inject saline or saline with very small air bubbles. This allows the test to show blood flow patterns within the heart more clearly.