What Tests To Expect When Visiting a Pediatric Cardiologist
When being referred to a pediatric cardiologist, most parents and children don’t know what to expect. Cardiology-related tests are pain free and allow doctors to have a better view of the heart. Below, I talk about the most common cardiology tests and what to expect during an appointment.
The echocardiogram (commonly called echo) is a safe and painless test that allows the doctor to evaluate the anatomy and function of the heart. The echo is one of the most widely used tests in children for evaluation of heart disease, performed on children of all ages and sizes, including newborns and fetuses. An echo is basically an ultrasound or sound wave test of the heart. During the echo, it is very important that the child stays calm and still during the test. For this purpose, parents are encouraged to comfort their children during the test by being active and creative. Most echo rooms have a TV or soft music playing. It’s not uncommon for kids to fall asleep during an echo. The test, on average, lasts between 30 to 60 minutes. It is important to note the sonographer will not give any results to the family; the test results will be given by your doctor.
The electrocardiogram (EKG) is a test that allows doctors to see the electricity of the heart, read heart rhythms and can help see enlargement of the heart chambers. An EKG is an extremely common heart test. They normally last 5 to 10 minutes and parents are allowed to be in the room with their child. During the EKG, patients will lay down and have stickies (or suction cups) stuck to their chest. The stickies will be connected to a machine that will print out heart waves. The results are printed out during the test and will be reviewed by the doctors who will discuss the results with you.
A chest X-ray allows doctors to have a view of the chest, including the heart, lungs and bones. It can give doctors a lot of valuable information about the heart, such as size. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Depending on the size of the child, they might be lying down with the X-ray machine above them or standing. Children will wear an apron to help shield from radiation. Most parents are asked to stay outside of the X-ray room due to the radiation exposure. X-rays are viewed by the doctor and will be discussed during your appointment. Parents are often concerned about the radiation, but exposure is minimal. An X-ray releases less radiation than being out in the sun.
The stress test is performed on a bicycle or treadmill. Patients will walk or bike while connected to an EKG machine and will have a mask over their mouth to help monitor their oxygen consumption and a small clamp on their nose. Stress tests help measure heart rate, blood pressure, irregular rhythm and how fit a patient is. Patients will be asked to give a maximum workout so doctors can fully see how a patient is doing. Most stress tests last 30 to 40 minutes. Parents are allowed to be in the room with their child. Patients are reminded to bring tennis shoes and comfortable clothing when they have a stress test scheduled.
A Holter monitor is a 24-hour EKG test. Patients are hooked up to a portable EKG monitor and they take it home with them. This allow doctors to review the heart during a 24-hour period. While wearing a Holter monitor, patients are asked to keep a diary so doctors know hour-by-hour what the patient is doing. The Holter allows us to look at a patient’s EKG during normal hours at home and see how the heart rhythm is during everyday activities. For more information about Texas Children's Heart Center, click here.