Why Do I Need an Echocardiogram?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Megan Freedman on November 3, 2020
  • EMG Machine for testing nerve damage
    Revealing the Heart of the Matter
    Echocardiogram—or echo—is an ultrasound of the heart. Your doctor uses it to look at heart size, structure and function—see how well it pumps blood. Your doctor may order an echo to see if symptoms you’re having, such as chest pain or shortness of breath might be related to your heart. In other cases, your doctor orders it as a precaution or follow-up related to another condition, such as cancer. Here’s a look at some of the most common reasons for an echocardiogram.
  • Senior-man-suffering-from-heart-attack-at-home
    1. You Had a Heart Attack
    Heart attacks cause part of the heart muscle to die, usually due to coronary artery disease or a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the heart. This can weaken your heart muscle’s function. Your heart may not be able to pump blood effectively after a heart attack. An echo can show how well your heart pumps blood after a heart attack.
  • Doctor listening to patient's heart
    2. You Have a Heart Murmur
    A heart murmur is an extra or unusual sound your doctor hears when your heart beats. Doctors often discover these during a routine physical. Many heart murmurs are harmless. Easily treated medical conditions like anemia can cause heart murmurs. But some murmurs are signs that you have a more serious problem like a heart defect or damage to your heart from high blood pressure or injury. An echo can help your doctor learn what’s causing your heart murmur.
  • Man-having-chest-pain
    3. You’re Having Chest Pains
    There are many causes of chest pain. You could have chest pain because your heart muscle is not getting enough blood (angina) due to coronary artery disease. But things outside the heart muscle, including a lung infection, torn arteries, indigestion, and panic attacks can also cause chest pain. An echo can look at your heart function and blood flow to rule out heart-related reasons for chest pain, such as a heart attack.
  • Human-heart-for-medical-study
    4. You Have Heart Valve Disease
    Heart valves help keep the blood flowing through your heart. When you have valve disease, blood can back up in different parts of your heart. This makes your heart have to work harder to pump blood, which can damage the heart muscle over time. Mild heart valve disease may not cause notable damage. But if you have moderate to severe heart valve disease, your doctor may want you to have regular echocardiograms to keep tabs on your disease and how it’s affecting your heart.
  • Doctor-explaining-chemotherapy-to-senior-woman
    5. You Have (or Had) Chemotherapy
    Many people who have cancer need chemotherapy. While chemotherapy kills cancer cells, it can also damage the heart muscle. Your doctor may want you to have a baseline echo before chemotherapy. Your care team can adjust your cancer treatment to minimize further heart damage if they detect any damage in the baseline echo. You may have another echo when you are finished with your cancer treatment.
  • Doctor-and-patient-using-digital-tablet-in-hospital
    6. You Had a Stroke or You Have a High Risk of Stroke
    A stroke occurs when a broken blood vessel or a blood clot in an artery interrupts blood flow to the brain. One type of blood clot forms in the heart (a cardioembolism) and is a leading cause of strokes. Certain heart conditions make it more likely that a blood clot will form in your heart. If you had a stroke or heart attack, or if you have heart valve disease, atrial fibrillation (a type of abnormal heartbeat), or another type of heart condition, your doctor may recommend an echo to locate and treat any blood clots in the heart before they cause a stroke.
Why Do I Need an Echocardiogram?

About The Author

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 3
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