An echocardiogram is an imaging technique that uses high frequency sound waves, or ultrasound, to make an image of the heart, according to Donna Gallik, MD. Information about the size, shape and function of the heart are collected during imaging.
A transthoracic echocardiogram uses a hand-held image transducer placed on the chest in a painless procedure. A transesophageal echocardiogram requires the transducer to be placed in the esophagus, or swallowing tube of the throat, in order to avoid ultrasound imaging interference from the lungs and chest. A stress echocardiogram is accomplished with exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle, and it can expose poor blood flow problems that other types of heart tests may not reveal. Other types of echocardiograms require the use of drugs to accelerate heart rate or catheterization to insert a transducer into a heart artery for detailed images, as described by WebMD.