An echocardiogram is a safe and painless test that uses ultrasound to produce moving, real-time images of your heart. The procedure helps to check the size, thickness, shape and movement of your heart muscle and valves. Examination of large blood vessels that connect directly to the heart also occurs during this procedure.

What happens during the procedure?

An echocardiogram is usually done as a day-case procedure in hospital and usually no special preparation is required.

Your echocardiogram will be done by a cardiologist or a technician trained to do ultrasounds. A harmless, odourless gel is applied to the skin and probe (transducer). The probe is then placed on the chest to acquire images of the heart. During the procedure it is normal to feel a slight pressure from the transducer. During the examination the room lights may be dimmed to reduce any glare and better see the screen images better. Routine echocardiograms should usually take no longer than 10 minutes to complete.

What is the difference between Transthoracic echocardiography (TTE) and Transoesophageal echocardiography (TOE)?

Unlike the standard or transthoracic echocardiogram described above, Transoesophageal echocardiography (TOE) involves the use of a long probe placed in the mouth and passed down into the food pipe (oesophagus) to record images of the heart.

The TOE delivers highly detailed images of the heart and may be especially useful if only low quality images can be captured from a standard transthoracic echocardiogram and in the investigation of suspected heart valve infection or malfunction.

What Should I Expect during Transoesophageal echocardiography (TOE)?

To prepare for the test, a 4-5-hour period of fasting is required. A special spray that numbs the back of your throat is sprayed into your mouth by the cardiologist. Following this, medication (sedation) delivered through a drip is given, to keep you relaxed and comfortable during the procedure. Your heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels are monitored during and immediately after the procedure.

The TOE probe is the placed in your mouth. You may be asked to swallow and to facilitate the passage of the probe down your throat and into your food pipe. The leading end of the probe houses the ultrasound camera that takes pictures of your heart which are recorded for analysis. The procedure typically takes no longer than 20 minutes.

You may feel a little sleepy until the sedative has worn off. You may also find that you have a sore throat after the procedure. This is normal and these side effects usually subside within 24 hours. Like any medical procedure, TOE is not without risk. There is a very small risk of damage to your food-pipe during the procedure.

Most patients should expect to have a day-case procedure, but occasionally, you may be required to stay in hospital overnight.