Dr Allan Harkness

Consultant Cardiologist for Essex and Suffolk

Contrast Echocardiogram

I can arrange for you to have a contrast echo at Colchester Hospital or the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre.

A contrast echo is similar to a standard echocardiogram except you will have an injection of contrast agent into a vein.

The contrast appears on the echo machine screen as bright white bubbles and the heart appears dark in comparison. This is the inverse of the normal image on a standard echo.

A contrast echo allows better visualisation of the edges of the chambers of your heart and thus a better assessment of the overall function of the heart.

What does it involve?

The procedure is very similar to a standard echocardiogram. You will have a small plastic cannula inserted into a vein in your arm or the back of your hand.

The cardiac physiologist may take several pictures of your heart before using contrast.

You will then get an injection of the contrast agent, followed by a flush of salt water. You should not feel any different from normal.

More echo images will be taken using a special setting to get the best view of your heart.

What preparation is needed?

There is no preparation required for this study. It is helpful if you can wear tops that are easy to remove. Please let the receptionist know if you will need help with undressing or if you would like a chaperone.

How long does it take?

Depending on whether you have already had a standard echo beforehand or not, the procedure can take from 15-45 minutes.

What happens after

The cannula is removed and a plaster applied. You will be given tissues for you to wipe off all the ultrasound jelly. You can then put your clothes back on, behind the screen. Ultrasound itself has no side effects. Since we are injecting a medicine (Sonovue), we will ask you to wait outside for about 15 minutes before leaving to make sure you don’t have any side effects (see risks below).

What are the risks?

There are no known risks with cardiac ultrasound. If the probe has to be pressed very hard against your chest, you may get a mild tender area but it would be unusual for you to bruise, unless you are on warfarin.

The contrast agent used (Sonovue) can, like any medicine, cause allergic reactions but these are very rare. The commonest side effect is a brief mild headache (in about 1 in 40 patients). Sonovue is broken down by the body in minutes and the gas in the bubbles are all breathed out in about 15 minutes.

What are the benefits?

Sometimes standard echo images are not very clear. In particular, it may not be possible to see the inner lining of the heart chambers well. This can make it difficult to assess how well your heart works and look for signs of scarring from heart attacks. Occasionally we are concerned that patients may have a clot in their heart. A contrast echo can make it easier to be certain if there is heart damage or clots.