A bubble echocardiogram is a procedure which is designed to give a doctor an idea of how well someone's heart is functioning. This medical test may be ordered for a patient who appears to be experiencing problems related to the physical function of the heart, such as leaky valves or an oversized heart. Very few risks are associated with a bubble echocardiogram, and the procedure is virtually painless. A patient's doctor or cardiologist will usually discuss the procedure and its possible outcomes with a patient before the bubble echocardiogram is performed.
In a traditional echocardiogram, the patient's heart is ultrasounded to create a picture of the heart, allowing medical professionals to assess the condition of the heart without the need for invasive surgery. The test is typically performed by an ultrasound technician, who may record the procedure or print out specific images which may be of interest to a physician. In a bubble echocardiogram, the echocardiogram is performed, and then a bubble of saline is injected into a vein in the arm.
As the saline moves through the heart, the ultrasound technician follows it. The saline makes certain heart functions more visible, highlighting problems in the left ventricle, the major pumping area of the heart, along with issues with the valves. The saline ultimately dissipates harmlessly into the blood, and is eventually expressed by the body along with other waste materials.
From start to finish, a bubble echocardiogram usually takes around half an hour. The patient is usually asked to remove his or her top so that a clearer image can be generated, and the procedure starts with the application of conductive gel to the area of interest. This gel helps the ultrasound machine generate a clearer picture. Some discomfort is associated with the injection of saline, but beyond that, a bubble echocardiogram should not cause pain or complications for the patient.
Having an imaging study of your heart is not something to be immediately concerned about, as results can be quite varied, and you have a number of options when it comes to responding to test results. It is important to stay relaxed and calm during such procedures, even if you are worried, to ensure that tension does not not interfere with test results. Your doctor may take a day or two to review the results of the bubble echocardiogram before discussing them with you.
Does a Bubble Echocardiogram Hurt?
The injection of the saline can be slightly painful, but the rest of the procedure doesn’t hurt. Relaxing your muscles, distracting yourself with a book or video, or having someone you trust come along can help reduce the discomfort. Making sure you’re well-hydrated before the test may also make the injection easier.
Are There Any Bubble Echocardiogram Side Effects?
Some people notice a strange taste in their mouths due to the saline, and the injection area may feel slightly irritated after the test.
A bubble echocardiogram is considered a very safe test. Ultrasound imaging carries no known risks. There is a very slight chance of the air bubbles injected into the bloodstream causing a stroke or mini-stroke, but the risk is extremely low because air bubbles that cause such problems are almost always much larger than the ones used in the test.
How Long Does a Bubble Echocardiogram Take?
The procedure usually takes about half an hour. If your cardiologist is present during the test he or she can interpret the results immediately; otherwise, it may take a day or two for you to receive the results. The test itself is usually performed by an ultrasound technician who is specially trained to perform various types of ultrasonography but does not interpret the results.
How Should You Prepare for a Bubble Echocardiogram?
Unless your doctor instructs you otherwise, you can eat and drink normally before the test. Wear comfortable clothing and choose a top that is easy to remove. You can resume your normal activities (including driving) as soon as your appointment is over, so you don’t need to arrange a ride.
What Does a Bubble Echocardiogram Look for?
A bubble echocardiogram is often performed when a cardiologist suspects that a patient has a condition called patent foramen ovale or one called atrial septal defect. Both PFO and ASD can be summed up as a hole in the heart. Humans are born with such a hole, but it usually closes up naturally within a few weeks of birth, meaning that there is no communication between the left and right sides of the heart. If PFO persists into adulthood, it can raise the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
If you have a PFO or ASD, the test will reveal it because the air bubbles will enter the right side of your heart and cross through the opening into the left side. The bubbles will eventually be absorbed by your lungs.
Bubble echocardiograms are also used to detect pulmonary arterio-venous malformations, which are small holes in blood vessels in the lungs, and enlarged blood vessels in the lungs (which can be caused by liver disease).
What Symptoms Might Prompt a Bubble Echocardiogram?
Many people who have PFO show no symptoms, but if you are experiencing breathlessness, fatigue, or neurological issues such as migraines or mini-strokes, your doctor might recommend a bubble echocardiogram. One may also be recommended as part of a larger testing regime if your doctor suspects you have liver disease.