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An echocardiogram, also called a cardiac ultrasound or echo, is a noninvasive procedure used to identify structural abnormalities in your child's heart. It can be performed on children of any age and size, including unborn babies at risk for having congenital heart disease.

The echo uses very high frequency sound waves to form a moving, two- or three-dimensional picture of your child's heart on a television screen. With this information, your doctor will also be able to evaluate how the heart muscle is functioning, record the speed of blood flow through the heart and estimate blood pressure in the different heart chambers.

In most cases, the pictures are taken using a technique called transthoracic echocardiography. A small instrument called a transducer, is gently placed on your child's chest and images of the heart appear on the monitor. This painless procedure, which gathers extremely valuable diagnostic information, usually takes about 20 minutes to perform. Parents are invited to be present. A restless toddler may watch a video while this work is being done. Occasionally, more comprehensive pictures may be required. In such cases, a procedure called a transesophageal echocardiography may be performed. Working with a skilled pediatric anesthesia team to assure your child's safety and comfort, extremely detailed cardiac images can be obtained by placing the transducer in your child's esophagus next to the heart. This technique is routinely performed at the Heart Center at Children's Hospital & Medical Center during open heart surgery or catheterization procedures to repair the heart.

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