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Echocardiogram (Echo)

An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart. An echocardiogram is a test that helps check the structure and function of the heart. The test uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart. An echocardiogram is also called an echo.

Why an echocardiogram is done

An echocardiogram may be done to check for any problems with the heart. An echocardiogram may be done to:

  • assess any effects of medications or chemotherapies that are known to affect the heart
  • determine a baseline before chemotherapy starts
    • This baseline can be used throughout treatment to monitor the heart.
  • help decide whether a person is healthy enough to tolerate certain treatments

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How an echocardiogram is done

The test may be done in a hospital, medical clinic or doctor’s office. It usually takes 20–45 minutes.

  • The person will need to remove clothes and jewellery from the waist up.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) electrodes may be attached to the person’s chest.
  • The person lies on a stretcher or bed.
  • A special gel is placed on the person’s chest.
  • A small probe called a transducer is placed on the chest and moved around to obtain images of different locations and structures of the heart.
  • The gel is wiped off and the electrodes removed.

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Special considerations for children

Being prepared for a test or procedure can reduce anxiety, increase cooperation and help the child develop coping skills. Parents and caregivers can help prepare children by explaining to them what will happen, including what they will see, feel and hear during the test.

  • There are no needles and no pain involved.
  • Parents can stay with the child.
  • The child should bring a favourite toy, security item (blanket or pillow) or pacifier along.
  • The child must change into a hospital gown.
  • Children under 4 may need sedation to remain still.
  • If sedation is used:
    • The child may not be allowed to eat or drink several hours before the test.
    • The child may have an IV put in.
    • The child may be on a heart monitor.

The preparation you can provide for an echocardiogram depends on the age and experience of the child. See the following for more age-specific information on helping children cope with tests and treatment.

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