What is an Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram, also called an echo, is a type of ultrasound test that uses high-pitched sound waves that are sent through a device called a transducer. The device picks up echoes of the sound waves as they bounce off the different parts of your heart. These echoes are turned into moving pictures of your heart that can be seen on a video screen.

Preparation for procedure

  • The echocardiogram procedure requires essentially no preparation on your part.
  • Bring a list of current medications.
  • No caffeine (no tea, coffee, decaffeinated products, chocolate, soda pop or medications containing caffeine) at least 4 hours prior to your test.
  • Do not apply body lotions to your skin the day of your appointment, as this makes it difficult to obtain high-quality images.

What happens during the test?

  • You will be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up and given a gown to wear.
  • Several electrode pads will be placed on your chest and shoulders to monitor your heartbeat.
  • You will be asked to lie down on an examination table on your left side. In order to obtain clearer pictures, a colourless, water-based gel will be applied to your chest.
  • The technologist will hold a transducer on your chest to obtain different views of the heart.
  • Sound waves are sent through the transducer and are reflected off the various structures of the heart to produce an image on the monitor.
  • The transducer must be pressed firmly against your chest, in order to obtain quality images and this pressure may be uncomfortable.
  • You may be asked to change your position or hold your breath at times during the test in order to take images of different areas of your heart.
  • A written report will be sent to your physician upon completion of the test. Your physician will go over your test results with you.

Common Questions you may have

How long will the test last?
The test lasts approximately 20 – 60 minutes depending on the number of images to be obtained.

Will I experience any discomfort?
You should feel no major discomfort during the test. However, in certain instances, the transducer must be held very firmly by the technologist against your chest and this pressure can be uncomfortable, especially over your ribs.

Should I discontinue my medications?
Do not discontinue your medications unless instructed by your physician.

Is there a cost to me for the test?
The test is covered by OHIP, as long as the test is referred by your physician for a medical condition. Sometimes the test is ordered for an insurance assessment or ministry of transportation request etc., under such circumstances, there may be a charge to you or your insurance company for the test since it was not ordered for a medical indication by your doctor.

View the video about the stress echocardiogram