Transthoracic Echocardiogram

(Echocardiography, Echo, Cardiac Ultrasound, Cardiac Ultrasonography, Cardiac Doppler, Transthoracic Echocardiogram, TTE)

What is an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is a noninvasive test (the skin is not pierced) used to assess the structure and function of the heart. It relies on the fact that ultrasound waves travel through the body and their reflection by the various anatomical structures they encounter can be used to generate an image of those structures. Echocardiography is the most frequently performed cardiac test after ECG (heart trace).

An echocardiogram utilises several ways of producing and processing ultrasound waves, including grey-scale imaging, M-mode echo, spectral, colour and tissue Doppler, speckle tracking, and 3D.


More information on each of these is available here:

From the perspective of the person having the test these various types of echo are not relevant as the experience is the same regardless of which modality is used.

Why have an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is indispensible in most cardiac consultations. The main reason for requesting an echocardiogram is to assess the pumping chambers of the heart (the ventricles) and the heart valves. It may be necessary to have multiple scans over a period of months or years, for instance in order to assess the effects of a treatment, or the progression of a heart condition.

Risks and side-effects of the procedure

For some patients, having to lie relatively still on the examination couch for the length of the procedure (30-45min) may cause back or joint discomfort or pain. Please tell the operator if you are uncomfortable at any point during the scan. The examination involves placing a small ultrasound probe covered with transparent water-soluble gel on the chest and applying a degree of pressure, so please let the person doing the scan know if your chest wall is tender. Exposure to ultrasound at the dose involved in echocardiography has no known risks or biological effects.

What happens on the day?

Before and during the procedure

The person performing the test will explain the procedure to you and offer you the opportunity to ask any questions that you might have about it. No prior preparation, such as stopping any of your usual medication, fasting or sedation, is required.

You will be asked to remove any jewelry or other objects that may interfere with the procedure. You may wear your glasses, dentures, or hearing aids if you use any. You will be asked to remove clothing from the waist up and will be given a gown to wear. You will lie on your left side on an examination couch. A pillow or wedge may be placed behind your back for support.

You will be connected to an ECG monitor that records the electrical activity of the heart and monitors the heart during the procedure using small, adhesive electrodes.

The room will be in semi-darkness so that the images on the echo monitor can be discerned clearly by the operator. They will place a small amount of gel on your chest and then place the transducer probe on the gel. You will feel a slight pressure as the operator positions the transducer to obtain images of your heart. During the test, the operator will move the probe around and apply varying amounts of pressure to obtain images of different locations and structures of your heart. The amount of pressure behind the probe should not be uncomfortable. If it does make you uncomfortable, however, let the operator know. After the procedure has been completed, the operator will wipe the gel from your chest and remove the ECG electrode pads. You may then put on your clothes. The total duration of the scan is between 30-45min.

After the procedure

You may resume your usual diet and activities unless your doctor advises you differently.
Generally, there is no special type of care following an echocardiogram. However, your doctor may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.

A letter detailing the findings of the echocardiogram will be sent to the doctor who referred you for the scan within a few days of its completion.


Research is undertaken to add to the existing scientific knowledge on a particular subject. There are a number of staff who conduct Research studies. It is possible that during the course of your treatment you may be asked to take part in a research study, however, you do have the right to refuse, and this will not affect the care that you receive.


If you are insured please bring the number of your policy and the authorisation code for the procedure. The cost of the procedure is £500, and you will be invoiced if you are self-funded.


Data Protection

The Hospital will do its best to ensure that your information remains secure and confidential at all times. The Data Protection Act 1998 explains how personal information should be processed and this applies to all information whether held on paper or electronically on computer systems.
If you have a concern or there is a problem, the best way to get it resolved is usually to tell someone there and then. On a ward, talk to the sister or charge nurse on duty. In a clinic, talk to the receptionist or one of the nursing staff. If you want to talk to a senior manager or to someone who has not been directly involved in your care and treatment, we can usually arrange this during office hours.

If you wish to make a formal complaint you can write to the Hospital Director, Sancta Maria Hospital, Ffynone Rd, Uplands, Swansea SA6 1DF.