Transthoracic Echocardiogram

What you should know

  • A transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) is an ultrasound that uses sound waves to show pictures of your heart. Your heart is a large muscle in your chest that pumps blood and oxygen to your body. Your heart has four chambers (spaces), including two atria (upper chambers) and two ventricles (lower chambers). You have heart valves (doors) between each atrium and ventricle, and between each ventricle and its connecting blood vessels. These valves help control the blood flowing into, through, and out of the heart.

  • During a TTE, pictures of your heart are taken as your heart beats. The sound waves make echoes that create pictures of your moving heart. A transducer (hand-held device) is used to send the pictures of your heart to a TV-like screen. A TTE can show the movement and thickness of your heart wall. The TTE can also show the size of your heart chambers. A Doppler device may be used during your TTE to show the blood flow through your heart. Color Doppler shows your blood as different colors, depending on the speed and direction of the blood flow. A stress TTE may also be done to see how your heart functions when it has to work harder than normal.

  • You may need a TTE if you have symptoms of a heart problem, such as trouble breathing and chest pain. A TTE can show if you have heart valve problems or heart damage after having a heart attack. A TTE can show if you have excess fluid around your heart, or a heart mass (growth). A TTE may help guide your caregiver during a heart procedure or to check your heart after having surgery. Competitive athletes may need a TTE as part of a normal health exam. Having a TTE can help you and your caregiver learn if you have a heart problem. Learning about your heart problem will allow you to get proper treatment.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • During a TTE, the pictures of your heart may not be clear. The pictures may be hard to read if you are overweight or if your lungs make it hard to see your heart. Shadows or reflections may be seen as a heart problem when your heart is normal. If this occurs, you may get treatments or have other tests that are not needed. With a TTE, some areas of your heart may be hard to see, and you may need other tests.

  • If you do not have a TTE, you may not learn the cause of your symptoms. You may not get proper treatment for a heart problem. Some heart problems can lead to heart failure, and you may die. Talk with your caregiver if you have questions or concerns about having a TTE.

Getting Ready

Before your test:

  • Ask caregivers about directions for eating and drinking.

  • Write down the correct date, time, and location of your TTE.

The day of your test:

  • You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives caregivers permission to do the procedure or surgery. It also explains the problems that may happen, and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.

  • Ask your caregiver before taking any medicine on the day of your procedure. These medicines include insulin, diabetic pills, high blood pressure pills, or heart pills. Bring a list of all the medicines you take, or your pill bottles, with you to the hospital.

  • Caregivers may insert an intravenous tube (IV) into your vein. A vein in the arm is usually chosen. Through the IV tube, you may be given liquids and medicine.


What will happen:

  • You will lie on your back or left side on a table or bed. Gel is put on the left side of your chest to help the transducer pick up the sound waves. Your caregiver will move the transducer back and forth on your chest. Pictures of your moving heart will be seen on the screen. During the test, you will need to lie very still. You may be told to hold your breath at times, or to breathe slowly. Your caregiver may put a contrast agent (dye) into your IV. The dye will help the pictures of your heart show up better.

  • If you are having a stress TTE, you may need to run on a treadmill or ride an exercise bike. If you cannot exercise, you may be given medicine in your IV that causes your heart to work harder. During a stress TTE, caregivers will check your heart at rest and while your heart is under stress. Caregivers will look for changes in your heart function as your heart beats faster and harder. Caregivers will wipe the gel off your chest once caregivers have all of the information they need.

After your test:

You may be able to go home after your test. If you are staying in the hospital, you may be taken back to your room. Ask your caregiver when you will get the results of your TTE.

Contact a caregiver if

  • You cannot make it to your procedure on time.

  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing that is getting worse over time.

Seek Care Immediately if

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:

    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns

    • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm

    • Trouble breathing

    • Nausea or vomiting

    • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Transthoracic Echocardiogram (Precare)