What to Expect
What is it?
Echocardiography is used to look at the heart of a child or fetus.
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound that helps doctors to see the structure and function of the heart and to evaluate blood flow within the heart and blood vessels.
It is very informative, and one of the most common tests that we do.
Why is it done?
A cardiologist uses an echocardiogram of a child or a fetus to evaluate the function of the heart muscle and look for structural heart abnormalities.
How does it work?
An echocardiogram sends high-frequency sound waves into the chest to rebound from the heart's walls and valves. The recorded waves form a moving two-dimensional image of the heart on a television screen.
These pictures show the shape and movement of the valves as well as the size and functioning of the heart chambers.
Your child will not feel the sound waves that are being sent into the chest.
What happens during the test?
This is a harmless and painless test just like an ultrasound for a pregnant woman. You and your child will go into a darkened exam room where your child can lie down on a regular bed to relax or, if too young, sit in your lap.
It's important to keep your child quiet and still for the test, so we provide entertaining videos to help your child remain calm. Younger children may be fed a bottle.
Warm ultrasound gel is applied to your child's chest and heart area. A small probe is placed in contact with the gel. The probe is repositioned and the images are obtained from several viewpoints.
The echocardiogram is digitally recorded for physician review and future comparison.
If it's too hard to relax your child for a regular echocardiogram, they may need to be scheduled for a sedated echocardiogram where a mild sedative can be given before the test.
Sometimes a regular echocardiogram doesn't provide all the needed pictures, and your doctor may recommend a test that uses special echocardiography probes to take pictures from inside the esophagus, which is called a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE).
In the TEE, a tube with an echocardiogram transducer on the end of it is passed down the throat and into the esophagus. The esophagus is right behind the heart, and the images obtained there can give very clear views of the heart and its structures. This procedure requires anesthesia and takes about 20 minutes.
A fetal echocardiogram is conducted in the same way as an ultrasound. The expectant mother lies flat, warm ultrasound gel is applied to her abdomen and a small probe is placed in contact with the gel.
A stress echocardiogram is performed when the heart is at rest and again just after the heart has worked hard.
In this test, your child is asked to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike to increase the heart rate and the amount of blood and oxygen the heart needs to function.
If your child is too young or unable to exercise on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike, the doctor may use a drug called dobutamine to increase her heart rate. A stress echocardiogram can be a more effective way of assessing blockage in the arteries.
How long does it take?
A standard echocardiogram or a fetal echocardiogram test usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes. A stress echocardiogram usually takes between 60 and 90 minutes.