What is an echo and what does it show?

An echocardiogram, or ‘echo’, uses ultrasound to show a picture of the heart at work. It is a very safe test – it is also used to examine babies in the womb, and the ultrasound waves cannot be felt.

An echo is used to look for abnormalities in your heart or the way it is working. The echo can also give a rough estimate of:

  • the amount of blood being pumped through the heart with each beat
  • the pressure in the pulmonary arteries.

Because of this, an echo is often the first test that picks up pulmonary hypertension (PH). However, because an echo only gives rough estimates, other tests are needed to confirm if someone has PH or not.

How is an echo done?

An echo is done with you lying on your left-hand side. A trained technician then passes a device that looks like a microphone – called a transducer – over your chest area at various angles. To help the procedure, a jelly-like substance is rubbed onto the tip of the transducer. The echo can be videoed or images recorded onto photographic paper. The whole test takes about 15–30 minutes.

Find out more about having an echo in the video below.