Diagnosis & Testing
What Happens During the Echocardiogram?
During an echocardiogram, you will be given a hospital gown to wear. You will be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up. A cardiac sonographer will place three electrodes (small, flat, sticky patches) on your chest. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph monitor (ECG or EKG) that charts your heart’s electrical activity.
The sonographer will ask you to lie on your left side on an exam table. He or she will place a wand (called a sound-wave transducer) on several areas of your chest. The wand will have a small amount of gel on the end, which will not harm your skin. The gel is used to help produce clearer pictures.
Sounds are part of the Doppler signal. You may or may not hear the sounds during the test. You may be asked to change positions several times during the exam in order for the sonographer to take pictures of different areas of your heart. You may also be asked to hold your breath at times during the exam.
You should feel no major discomfort during the test, although you may feel coolness from the gel on the transducer and a slight pressure of the transducer on your chest.
The test will take about 40 minutes. After the test, you can get dressed and go about your daily activities. Your doctor will discuss the test results with you.
What Should I Do to Prepare for a Stress Echocardiogram?
If you are scheduled for a dobutamine stress echo AND you have a pacemaker, please contact your doctor for specific instructions. Your device may need to be checked before the test.
On the day of the stress echocardiogram, do not eat or drink anything except water for four hours before the test. Do not drink or eat caffeine products (cola, chocolate, coffee, tea) for 24 hours before the test. Caffeine will interfere with the results of your test. Do not take any over-the-counter medications that contain caffeine for 24 hours before the test. Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse if you have questions about medications that may contain caffeine.
Do not take the following heart medications for 24 hours before your test unless your doctor tells you otherwise, or unless the medication is needed to treat chest discomfort:
- Beta-blockers (for example, Tenormin, Lopressor, Toprol, or Inderal)
- Isosorbide dinitrate (for example, Isordil, Sorbitrate)
- Isosorbide mononitrate (for example, Ismo, Indur, Monoket)
- Nitroglycerin (for example, Deponit, Nitrostat, Nitropatches)
Your doctor may also ask you to stop taking other heart medications on the day of your test. If you have any questions about your medications, ask your doctor. Do not discontinue any medication without first talking with your doctor.
If you use an inhaler for your breathing, please bring it with you.
What if I Have Diabetes and Need an Echocardiogram?
For people with diabetes who need an echocardiogram, follow these guidelines unless your doctor tells you otherwise:
- If you take insulin to control your blood sugar, ask your doctor what amount you should take the day of the test. Often, your doctor will tell you to take only half of your usual morning dose and to eat a light meal four hours before the test.
- If you take pills to control your blood sugar, do not take your medication until after the test is complete.
- Do not take your diabetes drug and skip a meal before the test.
- If you own a glucose monitor, bring it with you to check your blood sugar levels before and after your test. If you think your blood sugar is low, tell the lab personnel immediately.
- Plan to eat and take your blood sugar medication following your test.
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