An echocardiogram is the best way to get a lot of information about your child’s heart that is painless and without receiving radiation. At our lab, we will evaluate the structure and function of your child’s heart without pain or radiation. In most cases, your child's echocardiogram will be done as part of the visit to see the Pediatric Cardiologist. In some circumstances, patients may have an echocardiogram without having to see one of our Pediatric Cardiologists, if one of your doctors has certain questions about your child’s heart that we can answer with the echocardiogram alone. Either way, we are here to make your visit as fast and pleasant as possible.
What is an Echocardiogram?
Your child will lie on a table and can choose to watch TV while one of our Pediatric Echocardiography Technologists puts a camera (which we call a probe, or transducer) on your child’s chest and makes gray wavy pictures of the heart. You and your child can watch the pictures if you want, or keep watching TV – it’s up to you.
The echocardiogram is an ultrasound, which is a type of machine used to make pictures of many other parts of the body too. Ultrasound involves sending out a sound wave and then listening to see how long it takes to bounce back (that’s where the “echo” comes from). The first use of this was called sonar, when scientists sent one sound wave to the bottom of the ocean to see how deep the water was in that spot. It turns out that if we send thousands of those sound waves out of our probe and then catch them when they bounce back, we can put all of those points together and make a picture of what is inside the body. When we use this to take a still picture of a part of your body that isn’t moving, like your kidney, we call it an ultrasound. But when we are taking movies of the only part of the body that is constantly moving – the heart – we call it an echocardiogram.
What will it feel like?
Here’s the most important thing: it won’t hurt at all. Our technologist will place three small stickers on your child’s body so that we can see the EKG on the screen. Then she will put a little dab of clear, warm jelly on the probe and put the probe on the skin. The jelly is important because the two things that can mess up an ultrasound the most are bone and air. The jelly makes sure there’s no air between the patient and the probe (and lets the technologist get the pictures without having to press too hard). She will make pictures of your child’s heart from a few different angles - from just below the ribs in the middle of the belly, from near the left armpit (unless your child’s heart is on the right – sometimes it happens!), from the middle of the chest just to the side of the breastbone and from the middle of your child’s neck. The technologist might ask the patient to roll over on the side, or to lie flay on his/her back at different parts of the study.
What else should I know about the test?
The test will probably take around 25 to 45 minutes, but sometimes a little longer if the doctor needs additional time to view the heart, or if it is difficult to get pictures for some reason. Parents, or anyone else accompanying the patient, can be in the room. Your child will be asked to remove his/her top or wear one of our gowns open in the front, but can leave the rest of their clothing on. The jelly does not stain if it gets on clothes.
Who is doing this test? And who is looking at it? And when?
Our technologists are all certified to make pediatric echocardiograms, meaning that they spend many years taking pictures of the hearts of babies, children and teenagers, or sometimes older people who have something complicated that’s wrong with their heart. They are dedicated to working with children and families.
Your child’s echocardiogram will be looked at – usually during the test or right after – by your doctor or by one of the other pediatric cardiologists. Like the technologists, our team is trained to look at the hearts of babies, children and adolescents – and sometimes adults who have had structural heart problems. Your doctor will know the results of your child’s echocardiogram when they meet you back in your exam room, or if you have come just for an echocardiogram, we will send the report to the doctor who sent you, on that same day.
Will I be awake the whole time?
Your child can choose to take a nap during the exam. The room is mostly (but not completely) dark, and the machine makes a nice humming noise, so sleeping is an option. We will never give the patient any medicine to go to sleep at the time of an echocardiogram in our lab. Very rarely will we not be able to get our pictures because your child is too active, and if that is the case we will have you come back a different day for sedation with one of our pediatric anesthesiologists.