What is a stress echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram or ‘echo’ is a scan that uses ultrasound to produce pictures of the heart. The test is straightforward and does not use radioactivity. A Stress Echo is useful to diagnose whether you have angina or not. It can also give your Doctor information about the severity of a valve problem, and it can help your Doctor to decide whether your heart function might improve after a by-pass operation.
During a Dobutamine Stress Echo, your consultant will give you some medicine to make the heart beat harder and faster whilst pictures of your heart are taken.
A Stress Echo is performed as it allows your consultant to understand how the heart copes when it is made to work harder.
What happens during the test?
A darkened room is used (it is necessary in order to be able to visualise heart structures clearly on the screen). Two or three people will usually be present when you have the test – a Doctor, a Physiologist and occasionally an assistant or Nurse.
You will be asked to undress to the waist and put on a gown that should be left open to the front. You will be asked to lie on a couch on your left hand side.
Stickers will be attached to your chest and connected to the machine. These will be used to monitor your heart rate. Your blood pressure will also be checked regularly throughout the test.
A drip will be put in a vein in your arm. Dobutamine, the ‘stress’ medicine will be infused into the drip, which makes the heart work harder. Whilst this is happening the Physiologist (or the Doctor) will take pictures of your heart using an ultrasound probe gently placed on your chest.
During the test a dye (contrast agent) may also be injected into the drip in your arm.This helps to improve the quality of the pictures that are being recorded.
When your heart has been made to work hard enough, the stress medicine will be stopped. The person who scans will continue to take pictures of the heart, and you will continue to be monitored until the effects of the stress medicine have worn off. This may take several minutes.
How long does the procedure take?
The Stress Echo usually takes around 45 minutes to complete.