There are different types of echocardiograms available, but for the most part, the preparation is the same, as should the expectations be. It’s a painless test and it generally takes an hour to complete. There may be a need to inject dye or saline into the patient’s veins to ensure the heart shows up clearly on the images. This dye is entirely different from the dye doctors use for angiography, which is a test for examining blood vessels in the body.
The patient is generally asked to remove their clothing above the waist, though women are given a gown. The patient will usually lie on their left side or their back for the duration of the test, though the technician may require them to move at some point to get a clearer view of the heart. The patient will have electrodes attached to their chest and this records the electrical activity of the heart.
The technician then applies gel to the chest (and their transducer) which assists the sound waves in reaching the heart. The transducer will then glide around the chest to capture images. It is the transducer that emits the sound waves that bounce back images of the patient’s heart. Patients should expect the exam to take place in the dark (or in a dimly lit exam room) as this allows the technician a better view of the monitor. Various pictures will be recorded of different areas of the heart and this is then recorded onto a disc for the doctor to review.
There may be a point where the technician needs the patient to hold their breath, this is generally followed by pressure as the technician tries to capture an adequate image with the transducer. It may be uncomfortable, however, it doesn’t generally last long. It shouldn’t be painful. It’s very similar to a fetal echo, the major difference being the transducer glides over the belly of an expectant mother as opposed to the chest of a patient.
There is no need for any special preparations before the exam, you may eat freely. It is safe to drink coffee as it is best for you to follow your typical routine so the doctor gets an accurate picture of what is happening with your health.
This test is the exception to the rule. If your doctor has scheduled you for a Transesophageal Echocardiography then you will not be permitted to eat or drink in the eight hours before the test, therefore in this situation, caffeine would be a big no-no. The good news is these types of tests are usually scheduled for early morning so that you’re not in discomfort for too long.
The TEE is used when a doctor needs a detailed view of the heart, for instance, when looking for blood clots. A tube will be guided down the patient’s throat to capture detailed images of the heart. This is generally accompanied by a medication to help the patient relax. They will also have their vital signs monitored. It only takes around an hour, though the patient will probably need to spend a few hours in the clinic to recover.
The doctor will provide detailed instructions on how to prepare for this type of test, but it generally involves physical exertion and medicine that increases the heart rate. Images of the heart are captured before and after the activity.