A device called a transducer is passed over the chest, directing high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) at the heart. The sound waves are reflected back to the transducer and electronically converted into images displayed on a viewing monitor. The images can also be saved on film or video and then examined for abnormalities.

Transthoracic echocardiography often includes three different techniques: M-mode, which provides a one-dimensional, vertical view of the heart; two-dimensional, which produces a cross-sectional view of cardiac structures; and color flow Doppler imaging, which gives a picture of blood flow.

Purpose of the Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • To obtain images of the heart by directing high-frequency sound waves from a transducer onto the chest and abdomen
  • To detect and evaluate heart conditions, including heart valve abnormalities, congenital heart defects, cardiomyopathy, atrial tumors, and pericardial effusions (excessive fluid around the heart)
  • To measure the size of the heart’s chambers
  • To assess cardiac function and heart wall motion after a heart attack
  • To evaluate the function of the heart’s pumping chambers and valves and detect abnormal fluid near your heart

Who Performs Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • A doctor, a nurse, or a technician trained in ultrasound

Special Concerns about Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • This test may not produce accurate results in people who are obese or who have thick chests, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or chest wall abnormalities. Transesophageal echocardiography may be a better option for such patients.

Before the Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • Immediately before the test, remove your clothing and jewelry above the waist and change into a hospital gown.

What You Experience during Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • After you lie on an examination table, a water-soluble gel is applied to your chest to allow better transmission of the sound waves.
  • The examiner places the transducer on your chest and applies some pressure while guiding it over specific areas of your chest.
  • You may be repositioned during the procedure and asked to breathe in a certain way.
  • The procedure is painless and usually takes about 45 minutes.

Risks and Complications

  • Ultrasound is painless, noninvasive, and involves no exposure to radiation. There are no associated risks.

After the Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • The examiner removes the gel from your chest, after which you may leave and resume your normal activities.

Results of Transthoracic Echocardiography

  • The doctor will examine the recorded images and other test data for any evidence of a cardiac abnormality.
  • If a definitive diagnosis can be made, appropriate treatment will be started.
  • In some cases, more invasive tests, such as cardiac catheterization, may be needed to further evaluate abnormal results.


The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Medical Tests

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 25 Jan 2012

Last Modified: 13 Jan 2015