What Does an Echocardiogram Show? Your Echocardiogram Results Explained

An echocardiogram is a special type of ultrasound for the heart. This article explains what an echocardiogram show, and how to understand echocardiogram results.

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If your GP or clinician has recommended that you have an echocardiogram, or you’ve already booked one, you may be worried about what the results may show. An echocardiogram is a non-invasive ultrasound scan that is an effective diagnostic tool that can provide valuable insights into your heart’s health and function, helping you to live a full and active life. 

However, you may be worried and even frightened about your echocardiogram's results, which can feel daunting. We’ll guide you through what an echocardiogram might find and what the results will look like. Plus, you’ll discover that if you book with Scan.com, you won’t have to wait long for your echocardiogram results, and one of our experienced and dedicated clinicians will guide you through what they show.

What does an echocardiogram show?

An echocardiogram uses ultrasound waves to create detailed images of the heart's structure and function. This imaging technique is crucial in identifying a wide range of cardiac conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart failure, as well as abnormalities in the heart valves, heart muscle, and chambers. 

Your clinician will recommend having an echocardiogram if they want to get a closer look at these areas of the heart:

  • Chambers: An echocardiogram can show the size and thickness of the heart's upper and lower chambers and help your clinician identify if any of them are an abnormal shape or size.

  • Valves: It can show if the heart valves are opening and closing properly, help detect if a valve is narrowed (stenosis) or leaking (regurgitation), and identify any structural problems with the valves.

  • Muscle: It can show the thickness of the heart muscle and reveal areas where the muscle isn’t contracting normally. It can also help detect scar tissue or damage to the heart muscle.

  • Blood flow: It can show the direction and speed of blood flowing through the heart and help identify abnormal blood flow patterns.

  • Function: An echocardiogram can measure how well the heart pumps and estimate the blood volume and pressure inside the chambers.

  • Fluid around the heart: It can detect fluid buildup around the heart (pericardial effusion) and show if the sac surrounding the heart is too thick.

  • Congenital defects: An echocardiogram can reveal heart defects present from birth, like holes between chambers, and identify abnormal connections between the heart’s blood vessels.

Echocardiograms can detect problems like heart failure and infections affecting the heart. They can also identify problems such as blood clots or tumours inside the heart.

What can an echocardiogram miss?

An echocardiogram may not always provide a complete picture of your heart despite its effectiveness. Echocardiograms may not always identify the very early stages of heart disease or subtle changes in heart function that could signify future problems. 

Other health conditions can sometimes affect the quality of an echocardiogram’s images. Extra tissues in the body, such as those from obesity and lung disease, can prevent the sound waves and echoes from providing a complete picture of the heart. 

An echocardiogram can also sometimes miss small tumours or masses in the heart, particularly if they’re in areas the sound waves cannot reach.

How to read an echocardiogram report - understanding the results

Be reassured that if you book your echocardiogram with Scan.com, your clinician will guide you thoroughly through your results so you won’t be left with any questions. However, knowing what to expect from your results can help you to feel less nervous about them. Here are some factors to look out for.

What do the colours mean on an echocardiogram?

Not all echocardiograms use colour, but some types of Doppler echocardiograms do. 

The colours reveal blood flow more effectively, but understanding the different colours on your echocardiogram result isn’t as simple as knowing what colours are bad on an echocardiogram. Instead, the different colours show your clinician the direction and speed of blood flow. 

Red shows blood flowing towards the transducer, and blue shows blood flowing away. Areas with yellow or orange colour represent a higher or more turbulent speed of blood flow, while green may mean normal or slower than normal blood flow. 

What do bad echocardiogram results look like?

An abnormal echocardiogram shows problems with the heart's structure and pumping ability. You may notice that the heart chambers are enlarged or the heart muscle walls look thickened. The heart valves may look narrowed, leaky, or stiff, showing that blood isn’t flowing normally. There may be a visible build-up of fluid around the heart. The echocardiogram could also show heart defects present from birth, like holes between chambers, abnormal blood vessel connections, or growths or clots within the heart. 

What does a normal echocardiogram look like?

A normal echocardiogram shows that the heart is in good shape. The heart chambers are the right size, the walls are normal, and the valves are working well, letting blood flow smoothly. The heart muscle is doing its job, pumping blood effectively, and there are no problems with the blood vessels. It means the heart is healthy and functioning as it should, without significant issues.

What terms should I look out for on my echocardiogram result?

Here are just a few of the terms you may see on your echocardiogram result and what they mean: 

  • Left ventricle: The heart's main pumping chamber, responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to the body. It is the largest and most muscular of the four heart chambers.

  • Systolic: The part of the heartbeat when the heart contracts and squeezes to pump out blood. 

  • Left ventricular systolic dysfunction (LVSD): This means that the left ventricle is not pumping oxygenated blood to the body efficiently. It can cause symptoms like breathlessness and fluid buildup (congestive heart failure). LVSD is often caused by blocked vessels supplying the heart muscle (heart attack), high blood pressure, heart muscle diseases (cardiomyopathy), or valve issues.

  • Diastolic: The opposite of systolic; this is the part of the heartbeat when the heart relaxes and fills with blood again.

  • Left ventricular diastolic dysfunction (LVDD): This means the left ventricle is not relaxing properly, preventing it from filling adequately. It can lead to symptoms similar to those of LVSD.

  • Ejection fraction (EF): This is the percentage of blood pumped out of the left ventricle with each heartbeat. Normal EF is around 55-65%. An EF below 40% is a sign that the heart isn’t pumping efficiently (heart failure).

How long does it take to get the results of an echocardiogram (UK)?

If you decide to go down the NHS route, you could wait for echocardiogram results for much longer than if you book a private scan. NHS waiting lists are at their highest since the pandemic, so it may take months to have an echocardiogram.  Sometimes, the person carrying out the scan may discuss the findings with you on the same day. However, in most cases you will have to wait until your next appointment with the doctor who requested the scan, which is around four weeks. 

When you book an echocardiogram with Scan.com, you’ll have your scan within days at a convenient time and place for you, even without a referral. You’ll also have your echocardiogram results explained in detail to you by one of our dedicated and experienced clinicians within seven working days. 

What to do if you’re worried about echocardiogram results

We know that waiting for echocardiogram results can be a worrying time, so we ensure your results are available and provided to you within seven working days. 

It’s understandable if you’re unsure whether an echocardiogram is the right scan for you, especially if you don’t have a referral. That’s also why we provide two clinical consultations. One happens before your scan to help you decide with the expert help of a clinician. The second happens after the scan when your clinician will clearly explain the results and the next steps. You’re under no obligation to book the echocardiogram after your first consultation if you’re not sure. 

Find out more about our echocardiogram services and book your consultation today. 

Sources:

Ashley and Niebauer. Cardiology Explained: Chapter 4, Understanding the echocardiogram. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2215/

Echocardiogram. (2022). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/echocardiogram/

Echocardiogram. (2023). https://www.ucsfhealth.org/medical-tests/echocardiogram

Echocardiogram. (N.D.) https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/echocardiogram/about/pac-20393856

Echocardiogram. (N.D.). https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/tests/echocardiogram

Electrocardiogram (EKG) and Echocardiogram. (2020). https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/diagnosing-cancer/tests-and-procedures/electrocardiogram-ekg-and-echocardiogram

How to read an echocardiogram report. (2021). https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/ask-the-experts/how-to-read-an-echocardiogram-report

Robinson et al. (2020). A practical guideline for performing a comprehensive transthoracic echocardiogram in adults: the British Society of Echocardiography minimum dataset. https://echo.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1530/ERP-20-0026

What is an echocardiogram? (2023). https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326727



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