Dr Allan Harkness

Consultant Cardiologist for Essex and Suffolk


I can arrange for you to have an echocardiogram at The Oaks, Colchester Hospital or the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre.

An echocardiogram allows a details view of the heart’s structure and function simply by placing an ultrasound probe on the left side of the chest.

What does it involve?

You will be asked to go behind a screen and undress from the waist up. If you are a lady, you will be given a gown to wear – you should put it on so that it opens up at the front.

You will then be asked to lie on a couch. ECG stickers will be placed on your shoulders and abdomen. In order to get the best images of your heart, you will be asked to lie in several different positions. The main position you will lie in is on your back, sitting slightly up, turned over onto your left hip and with your left arm held up — you can hold onto a grab bar.

The cardiac physiologist will sit on one side of you and place the ultrasound probe on your chest. Ultrasound jelly is used to help improve the image quality — this jelly makes the probe slide over your chest. Sometimes the probe has to be pressed quite hard to get the best pictures and this can be a bit uncomfortable but is usually not required for long.

The ultrasound machine will occasionally make whooshing noises — this is an artificial noise representing blood flow in an area of the heart being measured. Your heart does not actually sound like that!

What preparation is needed?

There is no preparation required for this study. It is helpful if you can wear tops that are easy to remove. Please let the receptionist know if you will need help with undressing or if you would like a chaperone.

How long does it take?

A standard echo takes about 40 minutes to perform.

What happens after

You will be given tissues for you to wipe off all the ultrasound jelly. You can then put your clothes back on behind a screen. Since there are no effects on the body from ultrasound, there are no after effects and you can get on with the rest of your day immediately afterwards.

The cardiac physiologist will not be able to give you information about the study at the time — they are not medically qualified to do so — please don’t be offended or worried because they won’t discuss the findings. I will review the images in the context of your clinical history before making a report.

What are the risks?

There are no known risks with cardiac ultrasound. If the probe has to be pressed very hard against your chest, you may get a mild tender area but it would be unusual for you to bruise, unless you are on warfarin.

What are the benefits?

Cardiac ultrasound has many benefits:

    • Safe
    • No preparation or need for monitoring afterwards
    • Relatively quick procedure
    • Allows detailed study of the heart’s structure and function – it is particular good for measuring the heart’s pumping ability and look for valve abnormalities. It can also show up signs of a previous heart attack.
    • Can be performed on everyone, although some people may not be very echogenic – by this we mean that the picture quality is less than ideal. This is more likely if you are very overweight, have severe lung problems or have had surgery to you chest or lungs.
    • Can be repeated many times, which allows comparisons against previous studies to show any deterioration or improvement.