An echocardiogram is a diagnostic test that uses sound waves (ultrasound imaging) to evaluate the functioning of your heart during activity. The heart pumps blood to the entire body and requires blood and oxygen itself to function adequately, which it receives through the coronary arteries. A stress echocardiogram is indicated to detect narrowing of these arteries and decreased blood flow to the heart muscle.
Prior to the test, you are advised not to eat or drink anything for 3-4 hours, and not to smoke that day. You must inform your doctor about any regular medications you are taking. Your blood pressure and the electrical activity of your heart including rate and rhythm are monitored throughout the test.
Your doctor first performs a resting echocardiogram to test your heart’s function at rest. Lying on a table, your doctor applies a gel on your chest and a device known as a transducer is glided over this area. This transmits sound waves which are used to create images of your heart.
Small sticky patches are then applied on your chest for the stress test. You are asked to run on a treadmill or ride a stationary cycle with progressive difficulty until your heart rate reaches a peak level. When you stop, more echocardiogram images are obtained. Please inform your doctor if you feel weak, faint or experience chest pain while on the treadmill or cycle, in which case, you are instructed to stop the test immediately. This is followed by a cool-down period. The entire test takes 45 minutes to an hour to perform.
An echocardiogram is used as a diagnostic tool as well as a means of monitoring the functions of the heart after treatment.