Transthoracic echocardiogram

Transthoracic echocardiogram(TTE) is a type of heart examination which is often used to diagnose heart disease with the help of ultrasounds. Actually is the most often type of test used to diagnose heart disease, period.

Although there are other versions of echocardiogram, this one is prefered. It is safe and effective method which usually lasts around 30 minutes.


No special preparation is required. However, it is advised not to eat or drink few hours before transthoracic echocardiogram, especially when it comes to big meals.


Heart ultasound is used by cardiologists to:

  • Assess overall condition, function and the size of the heart, its valves, chambers and the sac around the heart
  • Evaluate the degree of heart muscle contractions associated with the ejection fraction and heart failure
  • Diagnose heart enlargement, cardiomyopathy, murmurs or arrhythmia
  • Detect heart attack, cardiac tumors, infections, blood clots or foreign substances in the heart or pericardium
  • Monitor function of the artificial heart valves


Sonographer uses small device called transducer which transmits high frequency sound waves.

Device then picks up the echos of these sound waves and interpret them as electrical impulses thereby creating an image of the beating heart.

As the name suggests, transthoracic echocardiogram is preform through the thoracic cavity or across the chest wall. The room in which the test is performed is usually darkened to help the sonographer see the pictures on the monitor.


You will have to take your clothes off from the waist up and lie on the back or on your left side. Sonographer will also have to apply a gel on your chest, in order to used transducer and preform the test.

You will feel a slight pressure on your chest from the device, during the test. It is like someone poking you with a blunt object but it is nothing to worry about.

Also, you will be asked to stay still, hold your breath as well as to breath slowly or to change your position, while sonographer obtains all the required images of the heart and its structures.

Although electrodes can be placed on your chest, arms and legs to do ECG along with echocardiogram, my doctor did only the heart ultrasound test.

Note: Sonographer may also inject small amount of contrast through an IV, in order to get a better view of the heart.


After transthoracic echocardiogram test is done, you will be given a napkin to wipe off the gel off your chest. After that you can put your clothes back on and wait for further instructions from the doctor, in the waiting room.

In my case, the doctor talked with me during the test and explained me the results, after the test.


There is no radiation exposure or other known risk associated with the transthoracic echocardiography. It also provides detailed images of the heart and surrounding structures which makes it useful in diagnosis of many heart related diseases.

You can even hear your heart muscle beating during heart ultrasound which is really surreal feeling or at least it was for me.

On the other hand, in some cases the images won't be clear enough due to lungs, ribs, or body tissue. However, intravenous contrast may be used to resolve this problem. In rare cases, transesophageal echocardiogram can also be used, if combination of transthoracic echocardiogram and contrast is not enough.

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