Pediatric echocardiography is an ultrasound, or sonogram, of a child's heart. An echocardiogram, or echo, uses sound waves to create images and videos of the heart. Doctors use echo to evaluate how well your child's heart is working and identify any problems.
At Pediatric Cardiology Associates of Houston, we do echoes during your child's first office visit, saving you an extra trip for tests. We're experienced in reading pediatric echoes to diagnose heart conditions and plan your child's treatment.
What is a Pediatric Echocardiogram?
An echo is a safe, effective test for children of all ages and sizes, including infants and unborn babies. Pediatric echocardiography uses sound waves to take pictures and show them on a monitor, like a pregnancy ultrasound. An echo focuses on the heart, showing details of its:
- Inner parts, such as chambers, valves, walls and attached blood vessels
- Movement as it pumps with each heartbeat
Our experienced ultrasound technicians (sonographers) are registered in pediatric echocardiography, and we do pediatric and fetal (prenatal) echoes at all our Houston-area locations.
Why does my child need an Echocardiogram?
What is an echocardiogram and what can it detect? At Pediatric Cardiology Associates of Houston, our cardiologists use pediatric echocardiography to identify and evaluate:
- Structural heart defects, such as problems with heart chambers or valves and unusual openings or connections within the heart
- Complex, congenital heart diseases (heart conditions that are present at birth)
- The heart’s pumping strength
- Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
- Infection in or around the heart, such as myocarditis
- High blood pressure in the blood vessels to the lungs
Your child may need an echo if they’re experiencing signs or symptoms of a heart condition, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting (syncope)
- Bluish color around the lips when crying
- Heart murmur
- Heart palpitations (a feeling of the heart racing, pounding or skipping beats)
- Poor growth
- Chest pain
We may perform an echo if your child’s electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG) has abnormal results. An EKG measures the heart’s electrical activity and is one of the first heart tests your child may have. Learn more about electrocardiograms at PCAH.
Types of Pediatric Echocardiograms
Our cardiologists rely on industry-standard tests for echocardiography in pediatric heart disease, including:
Transthoracic Echocardiogram (TTE)
A pediatric transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE), the most common type, is a painless, noninvasive test (does not enter the body). A TTE produces pictures of your child’s heart from outside the chest.
If you’re pregnant, your doctor may notice signs of a heart condition in your unborn baby during a routine prenatal ultrasound. Our experienced cardiologists use fetal echocardiogram to evaluate your baby’s heart for reasons including:
- Family history of congenital heart disease (heart conditions that are present at birth) or other heart problems
- Medical conditions in the mother that may affect the baby's heart, such as lupus, rubella or pre pregnancy diabetes
- Family history or signs of genetic disorders such as Down syndrome
- Suspected heart problem
A fetal echo is a painless, noninvasive imaging test that involves a transducer passed over the mother’s belly. Learn more about fetal echoes and other fetal heart care we provide.
Pediatric Echocardiogram: What to expect
Our experienced team performs TTEs and fetal echoes in our offices, and we provide and explain the results during the same visit.
What to expect before a Pediatric Echocardiogram
Transthoracic echo (TTE) Here’s how to plan for your first visit with us:
- What to bring: For babies, bring diapers, your own bottles for feeding and a pacifier, if your baby uses one. Children may bring a favorite toy to hold, or you can bring a device or book to help them stay calm during the procedure
- What to wear: Babies and children should wear comfortable clothes with front buttons, zippers or snaps that open easily. The sonographer needs access to your child's chest and belly during the exam.
- How long for the visit: The echo itself takes about 10 to 20 minutes, but plan for about 1 to 1.5 hours’ total time for the appointment.
- Who can be in the test room: We encourage parents to stay with their child during the test to help ease their anxiety or fear.
You can help your child prepare for an echo with these steps:
- Do not use any cream or oil on your child before the exam.
- If your child is old enough, you can explain what happens during an echocardiogram. Help them understand that they must stay still.
The procedure for a fetal echo is similar to a regular prenatal ultrasound. Women should not put any lotions, creams or powders on their belly on the day of the test.
What to expect during a Pediatric Echocardiogram
Transthoracic echo (TTE)
- We ask you or your child to remove their clothes from the waist up. Girls will wear a gown, and boys may have a gown if they wish.
- We bring you and your child into the exam room and dim the lights.
- We apply a warm gel to your child's chest and belly. With light pressure, we move the transducer through the gel over the area.
- The transducer takes pictures of your child’s heart from multiple places on the chest.
For pregnant people, the steps include:
- We apply a warm gel to your belly and use it to move the transducer over your skin.
- You may need to move into various positions so that we can take video and images of your baby’s heart from various angles.
Results of a Pediatric Echocardiogram
We provide your child’s TTE or fetal echo results during the same visit.
- Our cardiologists review the images to identify any problems with your child’s heart.
- We provide you with the results and explain the findings.
- We discuss with you the possible next steps for your child’s care, which may include further testing or treatment.