In patients with suspicious Ischemic heart disease, arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle (coronary arteries) may be blocked and the symptoms and signs of which may occur only during physical activity. Your doctor might recommend a stress echocardiogram to check for coronary artery problems. However, an echocardiogram can’t provide information about any blockages in the heart’s arteries.

In a stress echocardiogram:

  • Ultrasound images of your heart are taken before and immediately after you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike
  • If you’re unable to exercise, you may get an injection of a medication to make your heart pump as hard as if you were exercising

Risks

There is not much involved in a standard transthoracic echocardiogram. You may feel some chest discomfort from the transducer being held very firmly against your chest. The firmness is needed to produce the best images of your heart.

During a stress echocardiogram, exercise or medication — not the echocardiogram itself — may temporarily cause an irregular heartbeat. Serious complications, such as a heart attack, are rare. Some of your medications need to be withheld before procedure . Please call our reception to find out about the medication use.

Food and medications

No special preparations are needed for a standard transthoracic echocardiogram. You can eat and drink normally. Some medications need to be withheld before procedure . Please call our reception to find out about the medication use.

Precautions

If you’re having a stress echocardiogram, we advise you not to have the exercise test immediately after a meal and also you won’t be able to drive afterward for a day. Be sure to arrange for a ride home.

During the procedure

An echocardiogram can be done in the doctor’s office.

For a standard transthoracic echocardiogram:

  • You’ll undress from the waist up and lie on an examination table or bed.
  • The technician will attach sticky patches (electrodes) to your body to find your heart’s electrical currents.
  • The technician will also apply a gel to the transducer that improves the conduction of sound waves.
  • The technician will move the transducer back and forth over your chest to record images of sound-wave echoes from your heart. You may hear a pulsing “whoosh,” which is the ultrasound recording the blood flowing through your heart.
  • You may be asked to breathe in a certain way or to roll onto your left side.

Most echocardiograms take less than an hour.

What happens after the procedure

Most people can resume their normal daily activities after an echocardiogram.

If your echocardiogram is normal, no further testing may be needed. If the results are concerning, you may be referred to a doctor trained in heart conditions (cardiologist) for more tests.

Results

Information from the echocardiogram may show:

  • Changes in heart size.

    • Weakened or damaged heart valves, high blood pressure or other diseases can cause the chambers of your heart to enlarge or the walls of your heart to be abnormally thickened.
  • Pump strength.

    • The measurements obtained from an echocardiogram include the percentage of blood that’s pumped out of a filled ventricle with each heartbeat (ejection fraction) and the volume of blood pumped by the heart in one minute (cardiac output). A heart that isn’t pumping enough blood to meet your body’s needs can lead to symptoms of heart failure.
  • Damage to the heart muscle.

    • An echocardiogram helps your doctor determine whether all parts of the heart wall are contributing normally to heart’s pumping activity. Areas of heart wall that move weakly may have been damaged during a heart attack, or be receiving too little oxygen.
  • Valve related problems.

    • An echocardiogram can help your doctor determine if your heart valves open wide enough for adequate blood flow or close fully to prevent blood leakage.
  • Heart defects.

    • An echocardiogram can show problems with the heart chambers, abnormal connections between the heart and major blood vessels, and complex heart defects that are present since birth.