An echocardiogram or ‘echo’ is a painless scan that uses ultrasound (sound waves) to produce pictures of the heart. A stress echo involves making the heart work harder, either with physical exercise or using medication, and taking echo pictures to look at how the function of the heart changes during stress.
In attendance will be a doctor and / or 1 or 2 cardiac physiologists and a nurse.
You will be taken into the echo room and asked to remove your top clothing and put on a hospital gown. Your height and weight will be measured. Stickers will be attached to your chest to monitor your heart rate and rhythm. You will also need to have a cannula (drip) inserted into a vein in your arm in order to give medication and/or contrast during the test.
You will then be asked to lie on the echo bed on your left side and the physiologist will take some pictures of your heart using an ultrasound probe with some cool gel on your chest. It may also be necessary to use an intravenous contrast agent to get clear pictures of the heart. During the scan, the room will be darkened so that the echo pictures can be seen more clearly.
After the initial sets of pictures have been taken, the stress medicine (Dobutamine) will be started. Every few minutes the dose will be increased, in order to mimic increasing exercise and stimulate your heart to beat stronger and faster. Sometimes a second medicine called Atropine is used to help increase the heart rate to the target level. Your heart rate will be continuously monitored throughout the test. Your blood pressure will also be measured at intervals during the test.
When your heart rate has reached its target and all the required pictures have been obtained the medication will be stopped and you will then be monitored until your heart rate has returned to normal. The cannula and all monitoring equipment will be removed.
If the doctor is available, he will tell you the result. Otherwise, it will be sent to you and your GP shortly after the test.