During an echocardiogram, a gel is placed on the patient's skin, and a trained sonographer obtains images of the heart by moving a device called a transducer to different areas of the chest, states MedlinePlus. Electrodes are also placed on the patient's chest to monitor the heart rhythm.
A patient must typically undress from the waist up and lie on his back on an exam table for an echocardiogram. Sometimes the patient is asked to roll to his left side or breathe in a certain way, according to MedlinePlus. If the lungs, ribs or other body tissues prevent the sonographer from obtaining good images of the heart, a small amount of contrast may be injected through an IV site.
The transducer used during an echocardiogram detects echoes of sound waves and transmits them to the echocardiography machine as electrical impulses. The machine then converts these impulses into images of the heart, which may be two- or three-dimensional, explains MedlinePlus. A Doppler is sometimes used to show the flow of blood inside the heart.
An echocardiogram is a tool that helps diagnose heart valve problems, heart muscle damage and inflammation around the heart, notes MedlinePlus. It also evaluates heart murmurs, measures the heart's pumping ability, and looks for the source of a blood clot following a stroke.