An echocardiogram [ek-oh-KAHR-dee-uh-gram] is a test that uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to check the heart. The sound waves bounce (or “echo”) off structures in the heart, and the echoes are shown as images on a monitor. A standard echocardiogram shows more detailed information about the heart than a regular x-ray can, such as the:
- Size and structure of the heart chambers
- Amount of blood pumped
- Structure and movement of the valves
- Condition of blood vessels
- Presence of blood clots or tumors
A standard echocardiogram usually takes 30 to 45 minutes and can occur at a clinic, hospital, or at an outpatient center. Here’s what happens:
- Registering. You’ll fill out some paperwork, including an informed consent form. Your child’s doctor or the technician will explain the test — be sure to ask any questions you have.
- Preparing: You and your child will enter a room with a special exam table and ultrasound equipment. Your child will remove clothing above the waist, and put on a gown. Twelve electrodes will be attached to your child’s chest to monitor their heart rate and rhythm. A cuff may be placed on your child’s arm and a clip may be attached to their finger, to monitor their blood pressure and the oxygen in their blood.
- Positioning: Your child may either lie on your lap or lie down on their left side on the table. The table might have a small section that drops down under their left side, to give the technician better access.
- Getting views of your heart: A small amount of gel, which may be cold, will be placed on your child’s chest to help pick up the high-frequency sound waves. Then a technician will move a device called a transducer [trans-DOO-ser] across your child’s chest. Your child might feel pressure from the transducer. As the transducer sends out sound waves, the technician will capture and save images of your child’s heart structures. The technician may ask your child to breathe deeply, cough, or briefly hold their breath. Younger children may have a hard time holding still during the test. Try to keep your child calm during the test.
Your child can generally go home right after an echocardiogram, and there is no special care needed at home. Contact your child's healthcare provider if your child experiences any heart symptoms after the test, such as:
- A racing or fluttering heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath