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Echocardiogram: Preparation, Safety, and Procedure

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If you present to your doctor's office with complaints of chest pain, skipped heartbeats, palpitations, or shortness of breath, they may refer you to a cardiologist after a comprehensive examination. A cardiologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the cardiovascular system. Your cardiovascular workup may include an EKG, also called an electrocardiogram, which is a test that evaluates the electrical impulses of your heart when you are at rest. If your EKG is abnormal, your cardiologist may refer you to an imaging center to undergo an ultrasound scan of the heart known as an echocardiogram. Here is some information regarding the preparation, safety, and procedure of an echocardiogram.

Echocardiogram Preparation

Preparation for your echocardiogram may include discontinuing certain medications a couple of days or so prior to your appointment at the imaging center. Certain medications can cause false positives or false negatives in your heart ultrasound. These medications include cardiac medications called beta-blockers, which have antiarrhythmic properties and slow down the heart rate. If you take beta-blockers prior to your echocardiogram, it may mask a dangerous cardiac arrhythmia or an abnormal heart rate.

Other medications that may skew the results of your echocardiogram include oral decongestants which can temporarily cause palpitations and tachycardia, also known as a fast heart rate. The only other preparation for the test is changing into a hospital gown, which will be provided by the imaging center staff. 

Safety And Procedure

Ultrasound scans of the heart are considered very safe because unlike regular x-rays they do not emit ionizing radiation during the procedure. Instead, the echocardiogram relies on soundwaves to generate detailed pictures of your cardiovascular system. Before your procedure, the technician will apply electrodes to your chest so that your heart can be monitored during the test.

While lying on your left side, the ultrasound technician will pass a special wand called a transducer over certain areas of your body so that the soundwaves can generate images. You may need to reposition yourself during the echocardiogram so that various areas of your heart can be assessed. The technician may also ask you to briefly hold your breath at certain intervals during your test. Once the ultrasound has been completed, the electrodes will be removed and you can get dressed and go home. There is no recovery time and you can resume your normal activities immediately.

If you have questions about your echocardiogram, talk to your cardiologist or technician at the imaging center. Once your doctor has interpreted the results of your ultrasound scan, they will then let you know if further treatment or evaluation is necessary.