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.
You will be taken into the echo room and asked to remove your top clothing and put on a hospital gown. Stickers will be attached to your chest to monitor your heart rate and rhythm. Your blood pressure will also be measured at intervals during the test. You may need to have a cannula (drip) inserted into a vein in your arm in order to give medication or contrast during the test.
You will be asked to sit on a reclining bike with straps around your waist and your feet to hold you securely. The physiologist will take some baseline pictures of your heart using an ultrasound probe with some cool gel on your chest. The exercise bike is tilted over to the left hand side (this improves the echo image quality). 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 set of pictures has been taken, the bike will then be returned to the upright position and we will ask you to start pedalling. During the test you will need to cycle steadily (usually for 5 – 10 minutes at gradually increasing workload) so that your heart can be scanned while your heart rate increases to a pre-defined target. You will be encouraged to make a good effort to reach the predicted heart rate and so get a good result.
During exercise the bike will be tilted over again so more pictures of the heart can be taken while you continue to pedal, then again returned to the upright position. Up to 4 sets of echo pictures are taken during the test.
When you have done enough exercise and all the required pictures have been obtained you will be told to stop pedalling. 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.