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Echocardiogram Information

What is an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart that provides pictures of the heart’s valves and chambers. An ultrasound is the same method we use to look at babies inside a pregnant woman’s belly. There is no radiation involved and it is very safe.

Why do an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is helpful for evaluating:

  • Function of the heart
  • Function of the heart valves
  • Infection or blood clots inside the heart

The risk of an echocardiogram

There are no known risks associated with an echocardiogram. However, if the pictures obtained are low quality, the Echo Technician or physician may ask for your consent to use an ultrasound enhancing agent called Definity (see below).

How to prepare for an echocardiogram

Prior to arrival, you should ensure to:

  • Bring your health card
  • Bring an up-to-date medication list
  • Bring a list of any allergies

How long will the test take?

The appointment will take about 45 to 60 minutes to complete.

How an echocardiogram is performed

  • The Echo Technician will explain the procedure before starting.
  • You will be asked to remove all upper body clothing and put a gown with the opening to the front.
  • A resting ECG and blood pressure will be recorded.
  • The Echo Technician will place three electrode stickers on your chest. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph monitor that charts your heart’s electrical activity during the test.
  • The Echo Technician will ask you to lie on your left side on the exam table and some cold ultrasound gel will be used to allow good contact between the ultrasound transducer and your skin.
  • Depending on the image quality and what is seen, the Echo Technician may ask for your consent to use Definity or do a bubble study (please see Definity and Bubble study sections below).
  • Once the echocardiogram is complete, you may leave.

What is Definity and why is it used?

Definity is an ultrasound enhancing agent that is designed to improve echocardiographic ultrasound quality. Definity is not a dye or iodine-based material, rather it is lipid-coated microbubbles.

It is used when the quality of the ultrasound pictures is poor. It helps to highlight the heart muscle and allow the physicians to better assess your heart function.   

The risk of using Definity

While adverse reactions are rare, they can occur with the use of Definity. If an adverse reaction occurs, it typically does not last longer than 15 minutes. If an adverse reaction occurs, the administration of Definity will be stopped and a physician will be alerted. Adverse reactions will be documented in your electronic medical record. Please let the Echo Technician know if you have any allergies prior to use.

Common adverse reactions include:

  • Headache
  • Back pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Allergic reaction/ anaphylaxis

How is Definity used?

  • The Echo Technologist will explain the procedure and obtain your written consent.
  • A Registered Nurse will insert an intravenous catheter and inject small amounts of the Definity solution while the Echo Technologist continues taking ultrasound images.
  • Once the echocardiogram is complete, the Registered Nurse will remove the intravenous catheter.

What is a bubble study and why is it used?

A bubble study is the injection of saline bubbles into the heart. It is added to an echocardiogram to look for abnormal connections inside the chambers of the heart.

The risk of doing a bubble study

There are no known risks associated with performing a bubble study.

How is a bubble study used?

  • The Echo Tech will explain the procedure and obtain written consent.
  • An intravenous catheter will be inserted by the Registered Nurse.
  • A saline solution is shaken vigorously to produce tiny bubbles and then injected quickly through the intravenous.
  • The Echo Tech will take ultrasound images of the heart after the solution has been injected.
  • This process may be repeated a second time with you performing the Valsalva maneuver (bearing down as if you are having a bowel movement).
  • Once the pictures are complete, the intravenous catheter will be removed.

How will I get the results of my test?

After a cardiologist has reviewed your test, the results will be entered into your electronic medical record. If your cardiologist ordered the test, they will be the ones to discuss the results with you. If it was your family doctor who ordered the test, the results will be followed up by them.