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Echocardiograms and Stress Echocardiograms

Echocardiograms and Stress Echocardiograms

An echo, or echocardiogram, is simply an ultrasound of the heart. You can learn more about ultrasound tests by referencing the above section describing ultrasound. Echos are usually ordered to assess the overall functioning of the heart in terms of its size, ability to pump blood, and valve function. The test usually lasts less than 30 minutes, and usually does not require any special preparations. The ultrasound images are usually obtained by a technician, and then forwarded to a physician trained in echocardiogram interpretation. He or she will send a report of test results to your physician to discuss with you.

The stress echo is a test that combines an exercise stress test and an echocardiogram. It allows physicians to see how your heart functions at rest and in response to exercise (usually on a bike or treadmill).

Physicians usually order this test to assess the condition of your heart as it relates to: irregular heart rhythm, chest pain (possible decreased supply of blood and oxygen to the heart), overall level of conditioning and heart function, etc.

The test lasts up to one hour. You should have nothing to eat or drink except water within four hours of your test. You should also refrain from caffeine or nicotine intake within four hours of your test. If you're a diabetic, ask your doctor how to adjust insulin and food intake prior to your test. You should also ask your doctor if you should take your regular medications the morning of the test, especially if you're on a beta-blocker (a specific type of blood pressure medicine). Wear clothing and shoes comfortable enough for fast walking or jogging, and don't apply lotions or powder to your chest area before your test.

To start, electrodes are attached to monitor your heart's electrical activity (EKG-further described on this page). An echocardiogram is performed at rest. Next, you are asked to exercise for up to 15 minutes. Note that the test will be stopped if you become too tired, or have symptoms such as chest pain, excessive shortness of breath, or concerning EKG changes.

Once you have achieved an adequate heart rate, you'll be asked to stop exercising. At that time, a second echocardiogram will be performed. You will probably be given the preliminary results of your test soon after completing the second echocardiogram. Otherwise, the results will be sent to the referring physician so that he or she can discuss the results with you.

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