Ultrasound Testing

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Ultrasound testing uses high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to create moving images of your heart’s structures, pumping action and blood flow. This is the same technology doctors use to see an unborn baby inside a pregnant woman.

Ultrasound testing is also known as echocardiography or echo. During an ultrasound test, ultrasound waves rebound or echo off the heart. Echocardiograms can help your doctor:

  • Assess the size and shape of your heart
  • Detect areas of the heart muscle that aren’t contracting well because of poor blood flow in the coronary arteries
  • Detect concerns with the aorta, the main artery that carries blood away from the heart
  • Detect fluid buildup in the sac around the heart
  • Detect heart conditions in infants and children
  • Detect possible blood clots inside the heart
  • See how well your heart is responding to medication 
  • See how well your heart’s chambers and valves are working

Types of Echocardiograms

Transthoracic echocardiography, known simply as echo, is the most common type of cardiovascular ultrasound test. It is noninvasive, which means it doesn’t require surgery or the insertion of a catheter.

During the echo, gel is applied to your chest to help the sound waves pass through your chest wall and reach your heart. A doctor or ultrasound specialist moves a transducer around your chest. This wand-like device sends out the ultrasound.

As ultrasound waves bounce off the structures of your heart, a computer in the echo machine converts the sound waves into moving images on a screen. Structures of your heart appear as white objects, while fluid or blood appears black. During the test, room lights are dimmed so the computer screen is easier to see.

Learn how to prepare for transthoracic ultrasound echocardiography (PDF, 62 KB). 

Doppler ultrasound is a special type of echocardiogram that shows blood flowing through the blood vessels. The speed and direction of blood flow appear as different colors within the black and white images.

Stress echocardiography, also known as a stress echo, helps doctors compare how well heart works during exercise and rest. If you are unable to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike, your doctor may give you Dobutamine, a medication that will increase your heart rate as if you were exercising.

Some people may have contrast agent injected into their bloodstream before the ultrasound. This agent helps doctors see how much blood reaches various parts of your heart when your heart beats faster and harder. This type of imaging is very helpful when diagnosing coronary artery disease.

Learn how to prepare for stress echocardiography (PDF, 41 KB) or a dobutamine stress echocardiogram (PDF, 554 KB). 

Transesophageal echocardiography, or TEE, helps doctors get more detailed images of the aorta (the main artery taking blood away from the heart) or check for blood clots in your heart. During this test, a doctor uses a special transducer that is attached to the end of a flexible tube.

You will be given an IV medication to help you relax. Your doctor will numb the back of your throat with a gel or spray before gently guiding the transducer down your throat. During the test, you’ll receive oxygen through your nose. Your blood pressure and oxygen content in your blood will be monitored. Although you shouldn’t feel any discomfort during the procedure, your throat may be sore for a few hours after the test.

Learn how to prepare for transesophageal echocardiography (PDF, 595 KB).

Echocardiography tests can be performed in a dedicated outpatient suite or in a hospital. They usually take less than an hour and you can usually go back to your normal activities right after the test. Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) may be the exception. It talks about 90 minutes. You will be observed for a few hours after the test, and you will need to arrange for a ride home afterward.

Echocardiograms Help Detect Many Conditions

Echos help doctors diagnose many common heart conditions and disorders, including:

Leading Midwest Cardiovascular Program

Aurora is known for providing one of the best cardiovascular programs in the United States. Our coordinated care includes access to outstanding doctors and services for preventing, diagnosing and treating heart conditions and disorders. We also offer a full-service rehab program to ensure your optimal recovery.

We also have the largest cardiac teaching program in Wisconsin, which puts us in a unique position to access the most recent technologies for diagnosing and treating heart disease.

Our doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.