What Is an ECHO Test, and How Is It Performed?

An echo test, or echocardiogram, is an ultrasound test used to view moving pictures of the heart on a screen, states WebMD. During this test, high-pitched sound waves are sent through a transducer, a device that picks up sound waves as they echo off the various parts of the heart.

There are several types of echocardiograms, says WebMD. These include the transthoracic echocardiogram, in which the doctor obtains views of the heart by moving the transducer to various locations on the patient’s chest or abdomen; the stress echocardiogram, during which the heart is made to beat harder and faster and its reaction is assessed; the Doppler echocardiogram, which shows the doctor how blood flows through the heart and blood vessels; and, the transesophageal echocardiogram, which provides the clearest pictures of the heart.

Doctors perform these diagnostic tests to find the causes of problems such as chest pain, abnormal heart sounds and shortness of breath, as well as to check how well an artificial heart valve is working. An echo test can also detect blood clots or tumors in the heart and reveal diseases such as cardiomyopathy. WebMD explains that because the test uses only sound waves, which have no known negative effects, echocardiograms are considered very safe.