What Is an Echocardiogram?
Echocardiography (an echocardiogram, echo or heart ultrasound) provides the pediatric cardiologist with moving images of your child's heart. It can let the doctor know how the heart is contracting and whether there are heart defects, such as holes within the heart or narrowed valves.
The echocardiogram is a non-invasive, pain-free procedure that is performed by a specially trained pediatric cardiac sonographer. All of the sonographers on our team are registered in pediatric echocardiography, and our services are available at our outpatient centers.
Echocardiograms use high-frequency sound waves that are reflected off the surfaces of the heart to create a picture on a TV monitor. Electrodes are placed on the chest to monitor the heart rhythm. Then, a transducer (which is like a microphone) is placed on the chest with warmed gel. Two-dimensional, color-enhanced images then appear on the screen. This echocardiogram is similar to those done on pregnant women to see the unborn baby (fetal echocardiogram).
When Is An Echocardiogram Necessary?
Echocardiograms are done for many of the same reasons as electrocardiograms, providing additional information in diagnosing an enlarged heart, ischemia, pericarditis, valve disease and chest trauma. No radiation is involved, and the procedure can be performed on infants, children and adults to get information about how the heart is working.
Other Types of Echocardiograms
A fetal echocardiogram (or “echo”) is a specialized ultrasound (“sono”) examination of the unborn baby's heart. It is done after an abnormality is seen on routine OB ultrasound or when there is a suggestion in the family history that the fetus has an increased chance of having a heart problem. Learn more about fetal echocardiograms.
A transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) may be ordered by the cardiologist when more invasive imaging is required. Using sound waves, imaging is performed through the esophagus. This procedure requires a longer visit under sedation. A pediatric cardiologist performs the echocardiogram.
How to Prepare for an Echocardiogram
For babies, bring your own bottles for feeding, diapers, a familiar toy and if you use one, a pacifier. Dress your child comfortably, keeping in mind that sonographers need access to your child's chest and belly during the exam.
The echocardiogram will take at least one hour. Please note that appointments for toddlers are best scheduled during their nap time so they may fall asleep during the test.
Parents are welcome, even expected, to be present during the exam. Tests are most successful when parents are with their child, helping to ease any fear and anxiety.
Tele-echocardiography, under the umbrella of telemedicine, is a life-saving technology for infants and children with congenital heart disease. Developed in the 1990s at Children's Memorial Hospital, our former location, tele-echocardiography today enables pediatric cardiologists to view and interpret echocardiograms performed on patients at other hospitals in real-time.
This real-time viewing of images and information allows for infants with serious congenital heart disease to be diagnosed quickly and cared for or transferred immediately. This technology is also very effective in defining cases of mild heart disease, which can often be cared for locally.
Our tele-echocardiography technology helped launch similar programs in the United States and internationally. Since the distance between hospitals is irrelevant, tele-echocardiography technology has the potential to become an important solution in diagnosing of congenital heart disease in remote areas without access to pediatric cardiology expertise. Using this simple technology, outcomes for patients with congenital heart disease may be significantly improved around the globe.