Trained sonographers perform echocardiograms, and cardiologists interpret the results, according to MedlinePlus. The test typically takes an hour or less, and it is performed in a doctor's office or hospital, states Mayo Clinic.
Echocardiograms provide detailed images of the heart valves and other structures without exposing patients to radiation, explains MedlinePlus. During the test, the patient lies on an exam table, and electrodes are placed on the chest to monitor the heart rate and rhythm. A gel is put on the chest, and the transducer, which is an instrument that sends out sound waves, is moved over the skin. Patients must sometimes roll onto one side or breathe in a certain way to allow the sonographer to obtain the necessary images. If the lungs, ribs or other body tissues prevent the sonographer from obtaining good images, administering intravenous contrast liquid may be required to get clearer pictures of the heart.
Echocardiograms are used to detect and evaluate a variety of conditions, including heart valve problems, abnormal heart rhythms, congenital heart disease, heart murmurs or infections involving the heart, states MedlinePlus. Pulmonary hypertension, heart muscle damage and inflammation of the heart may also be evaluated with an echocardiogram. In addition, this test helps doctors determine how well the heart pumps blood.