An echocardiogram or echo is an ultrasound scan of the heart. There are many indications including symptoms of breathlessness, murmurs, heart rhythm problems or ischaemic heart disease (angina and heart attacks)

Echo uses standard ultrasound techniques to examine the anatomy and function of the heart with moving real time images. In addition to creating two-dimensional pictures of the cardiovascular system, an echo can also give accurate assessments of the velocity of blood and cardiac tissue using pulsed or continuous wave doppler ultrasound.

Echo is invaluable assessment of cardiac valve abnormalities, which are often evident when a doctor hears a murmur when examining a patient’s heart with a stethoscope. Valves that are stiff or stenosed restrict blood flow, and valves that are incompetent or leaky increase the volume of blood that the heart has to pump. Heart valve function can be measured to determine whether abnormalities require surgery or other therapy.

The performance of the heart’s main pumping chambers (ventricles) can also be measured to diagnose heart failure or ventricular impairment after a heart attack. This is important to determine the correct drug therapy, for surgery and certain kinds of pacemakers.

Echo can also identify any abnormal communications between the left and right side of the heart, some of which are present from birth but may only be diagnosed in adulthood. Holes in the heart such as patent foramen ovale or atrial septal defect sometimes require closure, either by cardiac catheter or surgery.

Echocardiography is usually performed by a cardiac technician or sonographer. The images are reviewed by a cardiologist to determine the management strategy and can be stored digitally to show the change in function over time.