What is an Echocardiogram? | MedStar Health

Using sound waves to see inside the heart

An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves, called ultrasound, to create images of your heart. These images are more detailed than a standard X-ray, and there’s no radiation involved in the test.

We have one of the most advanced cardiac imaging programs in the region, and we’re able to perform 3-D interventional echocardiography, an advanced form of transesophageal echocardiography that gives our doctors better views of the heart.

Our echocardiography core lab, part of our cardiovascular core laboratories, provides internationally recognized expertise in interpreting and analyzing the results of these tests. We review hundreds of tests each month from patients throughout the region, which lets us quickly detect problems for the most accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Your doctor may recommend an echocardiogram, also known as an echo, for a number of reasons. Echocardiograms let us see the size and shape of your heart, as well as how well the heart’s chambers, blood vessels, and valves work. We also can detect problems with the heart’s structure, including any abnormal holes between the heart’s chambers or issues with the heart’s outer lining.

The standard form of echocardiography also is known as a transthoracic echocardiogram. We also offer several types of echocardiograms, including stress echocardiography (done during exercise) and transesophageal echocardiography (done with a probe carefully guided down the throat).


What to expect from an echocardiogram

You’ll undress from the waist up and lie on a bed or table. A technician will place patches called electrodes on your body so we can monitor your heartbeat during the test. The technician will rub gel on the area to be tested and will press a device called a transducer against your chest. The transducer creates sound waves and picks them up as they bounce back from your heart.

The technician will move the transducer over your chest. You may need to hold still, breathe slowly, hold your breath or roll to your side to help us get the images we need. The test usually takes less than an hour.

Once your echocardiogram is done, the technician will wipe off the gel and remove the electrodes. You should be able to go back to your normal activities after the test. A standard echocardiogram has no side effects or risks. Afterward, your doctor will review the results and discuss with you what the images showed.


Aneurysm surgery

Aneurysm surgery is used to repair bulges in blood vessels after they have ruptured or to prevent them from rupturing. Surgery may take several approaches: traditional open surgery, a minimally invasive endovascular method or a hybrid of the two.

Anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery surgical treatment

Several methods can be used to correct anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery (ALCAPA), in which the left coronary artery branches off from the pulmonary artery instead of the aorta.

Aortic root surgery

Aortic root surgery is a complex procedure used to treat damage to the aorta and the aortic valve caused by an aortic root aneurysm.

Aortic valve repair and replacement

Aortic valve repair and replacement procedures include minimally invasive and traditional surgery as well as several types of replacement material.

Balloon aortic valvuloplasty

Aortic valvuloplasty is a minimally invasive procedure to open the aortic valve inside your heart.

Arrhythmia treatments (heart rhythm)

Treatments for arrhythmias, or heart rhythm disorders, such as minimally invasive procedures, implantable devices and surgery, vary based on the type and severity of your condition.

Atrial fibrillation ablation

Atrial fibrillation ablation uses extreme heat or cold to destroy tissue causing faulty electrical signals in the heart.

Balloon valvuloplasty

Balloon valvuloplasty improves blood flow through the heart to the lungs and body by opening a stiff heart valve.

Cardiac ablation

Cardiac ablation uses heat or cold to destroy heart tissue causing abnormal heart rhythms known as arrhythmias.

Cardiac implant closure device

Cardiac implant closure devices are used to repair defects that allow blood to flow through a hole connecting the chambers of the heart.

Cardiac rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation is an exercise program designed to help people recover from certain heart conditions or treatments.

Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)

Cardiac resynchronization therapy, or CRT, is a treatment for heart failure that uses a pacemaker device to keep the heart’s lower two chambers pumping together.

Catheter ablation for atrial fibrillation

Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that uses heat or cold to destroy heart tissue causing atrial fibrillation, a type of abnormal heart rhythm.

Congenital heart disease treatments

Treatments for congenital heart conditions range from atrial septal defect and patent foramen ovale closures to cardiac ablations and heart valve replacements to heart transplants.

Convergent procedure (MAZE)

A convergent MAZE procedure is a procedure that aggressively treats atrial fibrillation (AFib). MAZE procedures create a pattern, or maze, of scar tissue in the heart to disrupt faulty electrical signals causing your abnormal heart rhythm.

Coronary artery bypass surgery

Coronary artery bypass surgery, also known as coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG), restores normal blood flow through narrowed or blocked coronary arteries by using a healthy blood vessel taken from your leg, arm, or chest to create a detour around the problem area.

Coronary artery stenting

Coronary artery stents are small mesh tubes placed within the artery to prevent blockages and allow better blood flow.

Electrical cardioversion

Electrical cardioversion uses electrical shocks to treat heart rhythm disorders.

Endovascular repair of thoracic aortic aneurysms

Endovascular repair of a thoracic aortic aneurysm is a catheter-based procedure to place a stent within the aorta to support weakened tissue.

Heart failure surgery

Surgical treatments for heart failure can include coronary bypass surgery, mechanical support devices and heart transplants.

Heart failure treatment

Treatments for heart failure such as medications, surgery, and mechanical devices vary based on the cause and severity of your condition.

Heart surgery

Heart surgery is an option to treat many heart conditions. You may need heart surgery either as a lifesaving procedure or when other treatments haven’t worked.

Heart surgery for atrial fibrillation (MAZE)

A surgical MAZE procedure treats atrial fibrillation (AFib) by creating a pattern, or maze, of scar tissue in the heart to disrupt faulty electrical signals causing your abnormal heart rhythm.

Heart transplants

A heart transplant replaces a diseased, failing heart with a healthier heart from a donor.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a device implanted below your collarbone that monitors your heart’s rhythm. When it detects an abnormal rhythm, it delivers an electrical impulse or shock to the heart to correct it.

Infective endocarditis surgery

Infective endocarditis surgery is the removal of infected heart tissue and repair or replacement of damaged heart valves.

Intracoronary radiation therapy

Intracoronary radiation therapy is an innovative treatment that uses radiation to prevent scar tissue build up in the arteries after an angioplasty or stent placement.

Lead extraction

If the wire that delivers electrical shocks from a pacemaker or ICD is no longer working correctly, your doctor will need to remove it.

Leadless pacemakers

A leadless pacemaker is a small capsule placed in the heart’s right ventricle that delivers an electric pulse to regulate the heartbeat.

Left atrial appendage closure

Closing the left atrial appendage can decrease the risk of dangerous blood clots and stroke for patients with atrial fibrillation.

Left ventricular assist device (LVAD)

A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) helps the heart pump blood more effectively during end-stage heart failure.

Left ventricular reconstructive surgery (modified DOR procedure)

During left ventricular reconstructive surgery, the left ventricle is reshaped to remove scar tissue caused by heart failure.

Minimally invasive heart surgery

Minimally invasive heart surgery is used whenever possible to reduce risks and shorten recovery time after surgery to treat a variety of conditions.


MitraClip is a device our doctors use to treat mitral insufficiency, also known as mitral regurgitation.

Mitral valve disease treatments

Mitral valve disease treatments may include medication, minimally invasive procedures, and surgery to treat a damaged valve.

Mitral valvuloplasty

Mitral valvuloplasty improves blood flow through the heart to the lungs and body by opening a narrow or stiff heart valve.

Off-pump bypass surgery (beating-heart bypass)

Off-pump bypass surgery, also known as beating-heart bypass surgery, is an option for many patients to have coronary artery bypass surgery without needing to stop the heart or lungs during the procedure.


A pacemaker is a device that helps control various types of heart rhythm disorders.

Patent foramen ovale and atrial septal defects treatments

Treatments for patent foramen ovales (PFO) and atrial septal defects (ASD) such as medication, closure devices and surgery, vary based on your symptoms and risk factors.

Percutaneous valve treatments

Percutaneous valve procedures use catheter-based methods to replace a damaged heart valve and are less invasive than traditional open-heart surgeries.

Pulmonary valve repair and replacement

Pulmonary valve repair and replacement procedures include minimally invasive and traditional surgery as well as several types of replacement material.

Pulmonary vein isolation

Pulmonary vein isolation creates scar tissue to disrupt electrical signals coming from the pulmonary veins that cause atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of abnormal heart rhythm.

Radiofrequency ablation for atrial fibrillation

Radiofrequency ablation uses extreme heat to destroy heart tissue causing an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation.

Subcutaneous implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (S-ICD)

Subcutaneous implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (S-ICD) deliver electrical shocks to regulate your heart during ventricular arrhythmias.

Structural heart and valve disease treatments

Structural heart and valve disease treatments address defects or abnormalities with the heart’s muscle or valves with or without surgery.

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)

Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is a minimally invasive option to replace a narrowed aortic valve that fails to open properly and blocks the flow of blood.

Transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement (TPVR)

Transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement (TPVR) is a minimally invasive option to replace a damaged pulmonary valve that reduces blood flow from the heart to the lungs.

Transcatheter tricuspid valve replacement

Transcatheter tricuspid valve replacement is a non-surgical procedure to replace a damaged tricuspid valve.

Tricuspid valve surgery

Tricuspid valve surgery includes repair or replacement of a damaged valve using traditional or minimally invasive methods.

Valve disease treatments

Valve disease treatments include monitoring, medication, or surgery to repair or replace a damaged valve.

Valve sparing or valve preserving surgery (reimplantation surgery)

Valve sparing surgery is a procedure to repair an aortic root aneurysm without replacing the aortic valve.

Ventricular assist device (VAD)

A ventricular assist device (VAD), also known as a mechanical circulatory support device, helps the heart pump blood more effectively during end-stage heart failure.

WATCHMAN™ device (left atrial appendage closure)

We can implant a WATCHMAN device to permanently seal off the left atrial appendage (LAA), which is a small pouch in the top left chamber of the heart that is the site of almost all stroke-causing blood clots in people with atrial fibrillation (AFib).

Our providers

Dr Brian Case listens to the heart of a patient during an office visit at MedStar Health. Both people are wearing masks.

Expert cardiology care

Getting the care you need starts with seeing one of our cardiologists.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.