Transthoracic echocardiography (including contrast and bubble studies)

Patient information

Transthoracic echocardiography (including contrast and bubble studies)

This is an imaging technique that uses ultrasound to generate pictures of the moving heart. It can be used to assess the pumping function of the heart and the heart valves. The procedure can be performed as an in-patient on the ward (bedside echocardiography) or as an out-patient.

An echocardiogram (also known as echo or cardiac ultrasound) will usually take around 30-60 minutes. You will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist upwards (you can request a gown and/or a chaperone if you would like one). Three small stickers will be placed on your chest and attached to wires which will monitor your heart beat. You will then be asked to lay down on a couch on your left-hand side. An ultrasound probe with cold ultrasound gel will then be placed on your chest which will generate pictures of your heart beating. The probe will be moved in various positions over the course of the examination to look at your heart from different angles. You may be asked to hold your breath at certain times during the test. There may be slight discomfort on the chest from pressure on the probe but it should not be painful. The ultrasound machine makes lots of noises which represent the blood flowing through the heart, please don’t be alarmed at these noises!
When the test is completed you will usually be able to leave the department straight away. Usually you will not receive the results of your test immediately as the sonographer (person performing the scan) will have to analyse all the measurements after they have finished the scan. The report will be issued to your Healthcare Professional once it has been created.
A contrast echocardiogram is a specialised type of heart scan that is performed at Wythenshawe Hospital. The procedure is very similar to the echocardiogram (echo) test described above, however, in addition you will have a drip (cannula) inserted into your arm and special ultrasound contrast will be used to look at specific structures within the heart. Sometimes this procedure is performed if we suspect blood clots in the heart. This is a very safe procedure, however, there is a small risk of an allergic reaction to the contrast dye which occurs in around 1 in 1000 people who are given the contrast dye. You will usually be asked to stay in the department for 30 minutes after administration of the contrast. If you are feeling well at this stage you will be able to leave the department.

A bubble echocardiogram (also known as agitated saline contrast echo) is a specialised type of heart scan that is performed at Wythenshawe Hospital. This test is usually done if your Healthcare Professional is concerned that there might be a small hole in the heart (known as a patent foramen ovale). Sometimes you may be referred for this test if you have had an unexplained stroke or heart attack. The procedure is very similar to the echocardiogram (echo) test described above, however, in addition you will have a drip (cannula) inserted into your arm and agitated salty water (saline) is injected into the drip which is seen to enter the heart using the ultrasound machine. The tiny bubbles created by the agitated saline can be seen entering the right-hand side of the heart. If there is a tiny hole in the heart the bubbles will be seen to pass into the left-hand side of the heart. You may be asked to perform some breathing manoeuvres during the test which can increase the accuracy of the test. The test is a safe and straightforward procedure with minimal risk of complications. The test usually takes around 45 minutes. You will be able to leave the department once the test has finished.