Talking With Your Doctor About Echocardiogram Results
An echocardiogram—echo for short—is an ultrasound of your heart. Echocardiograms show the size and structure of the heart and what’s happening in the different chambers as your heart is beating.
Keep in mind that an echo is one method a cardiologist uses to make a diagnosis. Your cardiologist will interpret the results in the context of other tests and your physical exam. Use this article as a guide to help you understand your echo results and discuss them with your doctor.
A normal result is when the heart’s chambers and valves appear typical and work the way they should. More specifically, this means that:
- There are no visible blood clots or tumors in your heart.
- Your heart valves open and close properly. They are not leaking blood or showing signs of infection.
- Your heart walls and chambers are normal in size and the heart wall muscles move properly.
- The heart lining has a normal thickness and does not contain extra fluid.
Other conditions can cause the same symptoms that prompted the need for an echocardiogram in the first place. For example, anemia can cause hear murmurs, and panic attacks can cause chest pain. If your echo is normal, your doctor may order additional tests to help uncover the source of your symptoms. Your doctor may also ask you to return for another echo in a few months to see if your heart size and structure are changing.
An abnormal finding in the heart’s size or structure may include:
- Blood clot(s) in the heart. Blood clots in one of the chambers of heart are often due to atrial fibrillation.
- One or more heart valves are not opening or closing properly. This might be a sign of heart valve disease, which can damage the heart muscle.
- Heart walls are too thin or thick, or heart chambers are too large. This might indicate decreased blood flow to the heart, or a bulge in the heart’s wall.
- Pericardial effusion—fluid in the sac around the heart. This puts extra pressure on the heart, which prevents it from pumping normally.
An echo can only reveal what is happening in and around the heart. It cannot always explain why it is happening. If your doctor is able to diagnose your condition based on your echo results, ask your doctor questions such as:
- What causes this condition?
- How severe is the condition?
- How do you treat this condition?
- Do I need more tests?
- Should I get a second opinion?
In some cases, your doctor may not be able to make a clear diagnosis. But you can ask your doctor what he or she is thinking. For example, you can ask, “What are 2 to 3 possible reasons why my echo came back abnormal?”
After an echo, your doctor may ask you to have other tests, such as a chest X-ray, EKG (electrocardiogram), or cardiac catheterization. These tests can give your doctor more information about your heart and may help explain your symptoms.
Use the following questions as a guide when discussing further tests with your doctor:
- What is the test?
- Why do you think I need this test?
- Who would give me the test, and how long would it take?
- Where do I have the test?
- What do you hope to learn from this test?
Conversations with doctors can be quick and contain a lot of information that’s not familiar. Before your doctor leaves the exam room, make sure you know what needs to happen next. Make sure you understand exactly what you need to do, such as make an appointment with another doctor, or call to schedule another test. Know when you should call your doctor or make another appointment.