A cardiac ultrasound, or an echocardiogram, is an evaluation of the structure and function of the heart and associated vessels, states the American Society of Echocardiography. The procedure is fast, painless and easy, and it uses ultrasound waves to produce images of the heart.
Types of echocardiograms include transthoracic echocardiograms, transesophageal echocardiograms, stress echocardiograms, dobutamine echocardiograms and intravascular ultrasound, explains WebMD. An echocardiogram shows the four chambers of the heart, the heart valves, the walls of the heart, and blood vessels in the heart and the pericardium, explains the Willis-Knighton Health System.
There are no special preparations for the procedure, and the patient can eat, drink and take medications as usual, states WebMD. During the echocardiogram, the patient removes clothing from his waist up, and the cardiac sonographer places three electrodes on his chest. These electrodes are attached to the electrocardiograph monitor, which charts the heart's electrical activity.
The patient lies on his left side on the exam table, and the sonographer places a wand known as a sound wave transducer on several areas of his chest, explains WebMD. The patient may have to switch positions so that the sonographer can take pictures of various sides of the heart. He may also have to hold his breath at times.
A cardiac ultrasound is very non-invasive, and the patient does not feel any discomfort other than the coolness from the gel on the transducer, explains WebMD. The test usually lasts about 40 minutes.