Frequently Asked Questions
What is an echocardiogram?
A transthoracic echocardiogram (often called an echo) is an ultrasound scan of the heart. It is a painless test that does not carry any risk for children, adults or unborn babies – it does not involve x-rays.
Why am I having this test?
Your doctor has asked for the test because it gives information about the structure and function of your heart. This information helps the doctor understand the potential causes of any symptoms you might have been experiencing such as shortness of breath or palpitations. An echo is not just used to confirm abnormalities, it can also be used to rule out certain types of heart disease. There are some types of heart disease that do not show up on an echo and other tests might be needed to confirm that there is no abnormality. This test is currently available to people who are referred by their GP through Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.
Why am I having the test in a university and not in the hospital?
The NHS is working at a level which is close to capacity but the demand for some tests and services continues to increase. The university is working with the local hospitals and GPs to find new and more effective ways of providing services. We want to work together to ensure that everyone can have high quality tests done sooner because this means that treatment can be started more quickly when it is needed. We believe that hospital services should prioritise people who are very unwell or who are known to have heart disease while people who are relatively well but who need tests to exclude heart disease should be seen in an out-of-hospital environment. The university is an ideal provider of such services. Our central Swansea location with excellent public transport links means that we are easy to get to for many people. We have staff who are expert in their field, a high-quality clinic environment with the same ultrasound equipment as the local hospitals and we already work closely with the hospitals in undertaking research and educating healthcare students and qualified practitioners. You will not have to pay for this test, the costs are being met by the NHS.
How should I prepare for the appointment?
You do not need to change your daily routine to prepare for the test but it would be helpful if you could select clothing that allows you to undress from the waist up (you will be offered a gown to wear during the test). Please contact us if you would like practical assistance during your visit or if you would like more information. If you decide not to have the test please let us know so that we can offer the appointment to someone else.
What happens during the appointment?
The appointment can take up to 45 minutes and will be led by a healthcare scientist in a private room. You can bring one friend or relative into the room with you if you wish. The appointment will begin with a brief consultation to ensure that you understand why you are having the test, what will happen during the test and when you will receive the results. You will always be given an opportunity to ask questions and to discuss any concerns. You will be asked to sign a consent form which confirms that you are happy to have the test. We will ask to measure your height, weight and blood pressure at the start of the test because these are relevant to your heart size and function. During the test we will record your heart rhythm and obtain pictures of the heart by moving a small probe covered with a watery gel over your chest. You will be asked to lie on your left side with your arm raised since this helps to get better pictures but you can still have the test if you are unable to lie in this position. We need to train student healthcare scientists how to perform the test so there may be an additional person in the room during your appointment. Please contact us in advance of the appointment if you do not want a student in the room during your appointment.
When will I be given the result?
After the test, the healthcare scientist will review the pictures and send a report of the findings to the doctor who asked for the test. The pictures are stored electronically so they can be reviewed by a specialist if necessary. You may be given general advice by the healthcare scientist during the appointment, but only your doctor can discuss the test results with you in detail and decide whether you need any further tests or treatment.
Where can I get more information?
The British Heart Foundation has a range of information leaflets which you might find helpful. You can find these at https://www.bhf.org.uk/publications.