Echocardiogram ultrasound imaging is a diagnostic technology using sound waves to generate visual images of the heart and its functioning, explains the American Heart Association. An echocardiogram test is an outpatient procedure that requires no special preparation. The test usually takes about an hour.
During an echocardiogram, electrodes wired to an electrocardiograph machine are placed on the patient's chest to monitor his heart rate during the test, reports the AHA. A gel is applied to the chest to help sound waves penetrate the skin. A probe called a transducer is then moved across the patient's chest. The transducer emits sound waves that bounce off the heart back to the transducer. These echoes are then converted into visual images that are monitored and recorded. Contrast material composed of microscopic proteins filled with gas bubbles are sometimes injected into the patient's vein in order to enhance these images, according to MedicineNet.com.
The echocardiogram test provides doctors with information about the size and shape of the heart, and about the size, thickness and movement of the heart walls, states the AHA. It helps doctors determine the heart's pumping strength and whether the valves of the heart are functioning properly, or if blood is leaking back through the valves. The test also reveals the presence of tumors or infectious growths around the heart valves, blood clots, disruptions of the heart lining and other potential irregularities.