Did your doctor recently order a cardiac echo and stress testing? If this is your first experience with echocardiography, take a look at what you need to know about the uses and benefits of this type of common cardiac test.

Why Did Your Doctor Order This Test?

To understand the answer to this question, you may need to learn more about what a cardiac echo is and isn't. This type of test is an ultrasound of the heart. Instead of invasive (surgical) methods, an echo uses sound waves to create an image. Your doctor can use this image to see the internal structure of your heart and learn more about how it functions.

Even though all cardiac echos provide pictures of the heart, doctors order these tests for different reasons. Your doctor might want to look at your heart's size, the valves, the chambers, how it functions, or the strength/rate of how it beats. This information can help a medical provider to detect or diagnose cardiac issues such as heart failure, heart murmurs, valve disease/leaky valves, congenital heart defects, high blood pressure, or other heart/blood vessel diseases.

If you're not sure why you need this test, talk to your doctor. Your medical provider can explain the specific reasons they want you to get a cardiac echo, what they're looking for (or trying to rule out), and why this is the best test for you and your healthcare needs. Along with an initial diagnosis, your doctor may also recommend an echocardiogram to track or check up on progress after surgery or during treatment. 

Are All Cardiac Echoes the Same?

The answer to this question is yes—and no. Again, all cardiograms use high-frequency sound waves to create images of the heart's internal structure or provide information about how the heart works. But there isn't one type of standard echocardiogram. 

Transthoracic echocardiograms are the most basic type of ultrasound. The doctor or technician will guide a transducer device over your chest to create images on a computer screen.

Some patients may also need stress testing. This type of echo includes the use of medication or exercise to increase the heart rate. Like transthoracic echoes, the medical provider will use a transducer to take images of your heart. This is done at rest and after exercise. 

What Are the Benefits of This Test?

The obvious primary benefit of a cardiac echo is quick and early diagnosis of a potentially serious heart condition. But you cannot get this benefit if you wait to talk to your doctor about possible cardiac symptoms (such as chest pain or unexplained shortness of breath) or don't schedule your test. Even though the overall diagnostic use of an echocardiogram is a major plus, it isn't the only benefit. Unlike invasive types of testing, this screening won't require sedation/anesthesia or surgical methods (such as incisions and sutures). This lowers the risk to your health, reduces discomfort, and eliminates the need for post-testing downtime.