An echocardiogram (or echo) is a procedure used to assess the heart's function and structures (heart walls and heart valves). During the procedure, a transducer (like a microphone) sends out sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard by the human ear. When the transducer is placed on the body at certain locations and angles, the sound waves move through the skin and other body tissues to reach the heart tissues, where the waves bounce or "echo" off of the heart structures. These sound waves are sent to a computer that creates the moving images that become the echocardiogram that assesses the heart structures.

Northwestern Medicine clinicians perform standard 2-D echocardiograms, as well as 3-D echocardiograms. 3-D echocardiogram technique captures three-dimensional views of the heart structures with greater detail than 2-D echocardiogram. The live or "real time" moving images allow for a more accurate assessment of heart function by using measurements taken while the heart is beating. 3-D echocardiograms show enhanced views of the heart structures and can be used to determine the appropriate treatment plan for a person with heart disease.

Types of Echocardiograms

Transthoracic Echocardiogram (TTE)
This is the most common type of echocardiogram, in which a transducer is placed on the chest or abdomen. During a TTE, the transducer uses sound waves to record images of the heart structures.

Stress Echocardiogram
A stress echocardiogram tests your heart’s reaction during periods of rest and exercise. At the beginning of this procedure, a TTE is performed. You will then exercise on a treadmill at slowly increasing speeds and inclines. A second TTE is performed after exercise is completed. The results of both TTEs are then compared and analyzed.

Pharmacologic Stress Echocardiogram
A pharmacologic stress echocardiogram (also known as a dobutamine stress echocardiogram) is performed if you are unable to exercise on a treadmill. While a TTE is being performed, you are given medication that causes your heart to beat faster, and mimics how your heart is affected by exercise.

Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)
A TEE looks at the structures of the heart through pictures taken from a probe inserted into the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach). Since the probe sits directly behind the heart, it allows certain parts of the heart to be seen more clearly than with a TTE done outside the chest.