An echocardiogram (or "echo") is a non-invasive test that examines the heart using high-frequency ultrasound waves. Among other things, an echocardiogram can demonstrate the overall ability of the heart to pump, show parts of the wall of the heart which are not pumping effectively, and reveal any of the heart valves which are not functioning properly.

The test utilizes a transducer, a small device, which is like a microphone. The transducer is held against the chest wall to send ultrasound waves that bounce off ("echo") various parts of the heart and return to form a moving image of the heart using a special computer. The image shows up on a special TV screen and can be recorded digitally, on tape or printed on paper. Gel is placed on the transducer to help the computer obtain clearer images. Dr. Alenick uses a gel warmer so that the test is not uncomfortable for his patients.

Echocardiograms are usually performed on children who have heart murmurs, suspected congenital heart disease or genetic syndromes, children who have undergone cardiac surgery, or those who may be ill with suspected cardiac dysfunction.

The test is one of the most widely used, uses no x-rays and provides excellent images. In addition, it is relatively inexpensive and painless.

What can we expect during an echocardiogram?
  • First, know that this test won't hurt you one bit! The test will only take about 20 or 25 minutes; that's a little shorter than most TV shows.

    When you come in, you will be asked to take off your shirt and you'll be given a hospital gown to put on.

    Little stickers which are attached to wires (called electrodes), will be put on your chest so Dr. Alenick can evaluate your heartbeat during the test. Both the stickers and the wires are perfectly safe.

    The doctor will put jelly (not the kind you eat!) on your chest, which will make the test work better. This jelly is warm, and has no taste or smell. It will be wiped off later. The jelly is used to make the pictures look their best on the screen.

    Now, you will be asked to roll over on your side. Dr. Alenick will place a small tool, like a microphone, gently on the gel.

    He will move the microphone around a bit, waiting for it to register (like tuning in a radio), and then will move it to another location. This is how the pictures of your heart get taken! You will be able to watch the pictures on a special small TV screen.

  • Before you know it, the gel will be wiped off, the stickers gently removed, and you can sit up and get dressed!

Dr. Alenick will fully discuss the results of your echocardiogram with you and your parents as soon as the test is completed.