Home Tests & Diagnosis The Echo Procedure

The Echo Procedure

How do I prepare for a resting or stress echocardiogram?

There is no special preparation for a resting echo. You should not eat, drink, or smoke for about four hours before a stress echo. You may be asked to avoid caffeine for up to 24 hours before the test. If you have diabetes, you should discuss dietary concerns with your healthcare provider to control your blood sugar levels. Talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking in case they affect the accuracy of the test. You may be asked to stop taking some medications (such as beta blockers) a few days before the test. For a stress echo using exercise, you should wear comfortable, loose clothing and shoes appropriate for exercising and you should remove all jewelry.

What does a resting or stress echocardiogram entail?

You will strip from the waist up (you can keep your bra on) and put on a hospital gown. A physician or technician will hook you up to an ECG by placing three electrodes on your chest using small sticky patches. You will then lie on your left side on an exam table. A technician called a sonographer will perform the echo while a physician supervises. A cool, colorless gel will be applied to your chest and to the end of a wand, called a transducer. The wand will be gently rubbed across your chest and you should feel a gentle pressure, but no pain. The sonographer may ask you to change position in order to get pictures at different angles. You may also be asked to hold your breath briefly during some parts of the test. The wand sends and receives sound waves through your chest. The soundwaves are analyzed to create a picture of your heart that is viewed on a nearby monitor and recorded on videotape or computer disk. Sometimes a contrast dye is used to get better pictures. If this happens, you will feel a warm sensation when the dye will be injected through an IV line in your arm.

For a stress echo, the nurse or technician will determine your target heart rate based on your age, height, weight, and what medications you currently take. You will wear a blood pressure cuff on your arm for the exercise portion. You will probably exercise on a treadmill or a stationary bike. When you have reached your target heart rate or when you ask to stop because of fatigue or symptoms, this portion will end. You will quickly go back to the table and lie on your left-hand side for another echocardiogram while your heart rate is high.

If you are unable to exercise, possibly due to older age, arthritis, or excess weight, a chemical stress echo (also called a pharmacological stress echo) will be performed. You will take a drug, such as dobutamine or adenosine, that mimics the effect of exercise on the heart while you remain at rest throughout the test. A resting echocardiogram will take about 30 minutes, and a stress echocardiogram can take one to two hours.

What happens after a resting or stress echocardiogram?

You may resume your normal activities after an echocardiogram. The gel is wiped off and you can get dressed and leave. If you had a chemical stress echocardiogram, you may experience some minor side effects from the medication including nausea, heart palpitations, numbness in the arms or legs, flushing, chest pain, or headaches. If a contrast dye was used, you should drink fluids to wash out the dye. If you don’t exercise regularly, you may feel chest pain, tiredness, muscle aches, and shortness of breath afterwards.

Next: What the Results Mean


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