Echocardiogram for Heart Failure: Care Instructions

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Person lying down for echocardiogram, showing transducer moved across chest, sending sound waves into chest, and picture of heart showing on screen.

What is an echocardiogram for heart failure?

An echocardiogram, also called an "echo," is a test to check for heart failure. Heart failure means that your heart can't pump as much blood as your body needs. During an echo, your doctor can check how much blood your heart is pumping during each heartbeat. This is called an ejection fraction.

An echo can also show if your heart is enlarged and if your heart valves are working as they should.

During an echo, you lie on a table. A handheld device called a transducer is moved across your chest. The device sends sound waves that echo off your heart. They create an image on a video screen of your heart beating. You may be asked to breathe slowly or hold your breath.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How do you prepare for the test?

You don't need to do anything to prepare. It may help to wear comfortable clothing that you can easily take off.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 if you have symptoms of sudden heart failure such as:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You cough up pink, foamy mucus.
  • You have a new irregular or rapid heartbeat.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have sudden weight gain, such as more than 2 to 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.)
  • You have increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.
  • You are suddenly so tired or weak that you cannot do your usual activities.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you develop new symptoms.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.