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Undergoing an Echocardiogram


An echocardiogram is a diagnostic test that uses ultrasound technology to create moving pictures of the heart. The test looks at the structure and size of the heart, as well as the way your heart pumps blood. 

Dignity Health doctors use echocardiogram results to diagnose and treat heart conditions, such as heart attacks, heart failure, heart defects, heart valve disease, and blood clots. You may need an echocardiogram if: 

  • You have symptoms of a heart condition, including chest pain, shortness of breath, swollen legs and ankles, unexplained fatigue, fainting, or dizzy spells.
  • A previous medical exam detected an irregular heartbeat (heart murmur).
  • Your doctor is monitoring your heart health after you had surgery, a stroke, or a heart attack, or because you have an existing heart condition, such as heart failure or coronary artery disease (CAD). 

Find a Doctor at Dignity Health to learn how an echocardiogram in the Bay Area can help you take control of your heart health.

What Should You Expect During an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram takes about an hour to complete, and can be performed in a doctor’s office, clinic, emergency room, or operating room. Your doctor may order other tests with or after an echocardiogram in order to get a more complete picture of your heart health. 

A typical echocardiogram has no known risks or complications and causes no pain or discomfort. During the test, an ultrasound wand is gently rolled over your chest while you lay on your back or side.

The wand sends and receives sound waves and the ultrasound machine turns them into images of your heart, which can be seen on a monitor. You may be asked to make certain small movements, or hold your breath during parts of the procedure.

Other types of echocardiograms include transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE), stress echocardiogram, and Doppler echocardiogram. These versions of the procedure can be more invasive, cause some mild discomfort, or require more strenuous physical activity. 

What Do Echocardiogram Results Reveal?

The results of an echocardiogram help Dignity Health doctors detect: 

  • Signs of damage or weakening of the heart muscle due to a heart attack or the narrowing of coronary arteries
  • Irregular heart structure such as a congenital heart defect
  • Problems with the heart valves such as leaking or narrowing
  • Blood clots, a potential cause of stroke
  • Heart enlargement or thickening of the heart’s chamber, which is linked to heart valve disease, high blood pressure, heart failure, and heart defects

To learn more about your heart health, take our free online heart risk assessment. To learn more information about our cardiac services, contact the heart care team at one of Dignity Health hospitals in the Bay Area.

Dignity Health offers advanced diagnostic procedures and treatment protocols, including echocardiograms, in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City.