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An echocardiogram is a diagnostic examination of a person's heart. Doctors use high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to look at the size, shape, and motion of the heart.
In addition to the standard test, there are specialized echocardiograms:
Contrast echocardiogram – a solution is injected into a vein that allows the doctor to see images from inside the heart.
Stress echocardiogram – performed during a cardiac stress test to assess cardiac motion when increased demands are placed on the heart.
Transesophageal echocardiogram – combines the ultrasound test with an endoscopy. A thin tube with a transducer on the end is inserted through the mouth and into the throat. The closer proximity to the heart produces clearer images.
Echocardiograms also may be combined with a Doppler study to assess blood flow.
Echocardiography is used to diagnose conditions involving the structure or function of the heart. An echocardiogram enables visualization of the four chambers of the heart, the valves, the blood vessels entering and leaving the heart, and the sac that surrounds the heart. If your child is being evaluated for a transplant, he or she may have a pediatric echocardiogram. This is part of a thorough physical examination conducted by transplant specialists to determine whether transplantation would be a safe and beneficial option for your child. The procedure is most often performed for the following reasons:
Certain disorders may interfere with clear imaging in a standard echocardiogram, and may require transesophageal echocardiography. These include:
Echocardiogram preparation typically includes a physical exam before the ultrasound. Your child may also have an electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG), a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle. Your child may eat normally before the procedure.
Your child will lie on a flat table in a darkened room. Younger children may want a parent beside them. The darkness of the room helps the technician see images on the screen.
A technician will apply gel to your child's chest. This conductive gel helps with the transmission of sound waves. The technician then presses a small, hand-held device called a transducer (a tool that converts energy from one form to another) against the skin where the gel has been applied. The transducer sends high-frequency sound waves toward your heart, which reflects the sound waves back to the transducer. The waves are received by the transducer and converted into electrical impulses that become a visible image on the echocardiography machine.
The images appear on the machine's screen. The technician can capture a still image or videotape moving images for review at a later time. To obtain clearer and more complete images, the technician may move the transducer to different areas of your child's chest. Your child may also be asked to change positions and slowly inhale, exhale, or not breathe for a short period of time during the exam.
No anesthesia is given because ultrasounds are painless. Your child may report that the gel feels cold when it is first applied. Holding the transducer tightly against the skin produces a slight sensation of pressure. The entire procedure takes thirty to sixty minutes.
When the ultrasound is finished, you may remove the gel from your child's chest and resume normal activities. Unless your child is an inpatient at the hospital for another reason, there is no hospital stay involved. No complications have been reported as a result of this procedure.
The images made during the echocardiogram are analyzed and interpreted by a specialist, who will send a report to your child's doctor. Based on these findings, your doctor will make recommendations for treatment during a follow-up appointment.
You should have the results between one and several days after your child's test.
Get the Echocardiogram Patient Procedure.
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Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In addition to the main hospital, Children's has many convenient locations in other neighborhoods throughout the greater Pittsburgh region.
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Interested in giving to Children's Hospital? Visit Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation's website to make a donation online.