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An echocardiogram can be done in the doctor's office or a hospital. After undressing from the waist up, you'll lie on an examination table or bed. The technician will attach sticky patches (electrodes) to your body to help detect and conduct the electrical currents of your heart.
During the echocardiogram, the technician will dim the lights to better view the image on the monitor. The technician will apply a special gel to your chest that improves the conduction of sound waves and eliminates air between your skin and the transducer — a small, plastic device that sends out sound waves and receives those that bounce back.
The technician will move the transducer back and forth over your chest. The sound waves create images of your heart on a monitor, which are recorded for your doctor to review. You may hear a pulsing "whoosh," which is the ultrasound recording the blood flowing through your heart.
If you have a transesophageal echocardiogram, your throat will be numbed with a numbing spray or gel to make inserting the transducer into your esophagus more comfortable. You'll likely be given a sedative to help you relax.
Most echocardiograms take less than an hour, but the timing may vary depending on your condition. During a transthoracic echocardiogram, you may be asked to breathe in a certain way or to roll onto your left side. Sometimes the transducer must be held very firmly against your chest. This can be uncomfortable — but it helps the technician produce the best images of your heart.
Usually, you can resume your normal daily activities after an echocardiogram.
If your echocardiogram is normal, no further testing may be needed. If the results are concerning, you may be referred to a doctor trained in heart conditions (cardiologist) for more tests.
Treatment depends on what's found during the exam and your specific signs and symptoms. You may need a repeat echocardiogram in several months or other diagnostic tests, such as a cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan or coronary angiogram.
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