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A dobutamine echocardiogram is a diagnostic stress test that is performed to check for various heart problems, including subtle physical defects and coronary artery disease. Intravenous dobutamine stimulates the heart muscle, causing it to beat faster to simulate the effects of exercise. A series of ultrasounds are then taken to determine if there are any abnormalities in blood flow or heart rhythm. The test is painless and can usually be completed in less than one hour in a hospital or outpatient clinic. Some patients may need to have multiple dobutamine echocardiogram tests during and after treatment for their conditions to gauge their recoveries.
A doctor may decide to arrange a dobutamine echocardiogram when it would be impractical to have a patient perform actual exercise, such as running on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bicycle. A person's age, overall health, or particular heart condition might make it too dangerous to exercise traditionally. Dobutamine increases heart rate and blood pressure in a very similar way as physical exercise, but it allows the patient to remain in bed where he or she can be monitored for any complications that may arise.
Before a dobutamine echocardiogram, several electrodes are placed on the patient's chest to measure heart activity and blood pressure. A doctor or trained technician uses a hand-held ultrasound wand to generate an image of the heart at rest. Dopamine is then slowly infused through a vein in the arm, and multiple ultrasounds are taken as the heart starts to work harder. A final ultrasound is taken when heart rate is at its peak. Vital signs are constantly monitored after the infusion as the medication wears off and heart activity returns to normal.
Most patients do not feel any discomfort during dobutamine echocardiogram tests. The medication may cause a person to feel warm or induce a mild headache that goes away shortly after the test. Rarely, it is possible to experience a serious allergic reaction to dobutamine or develop symptoms of a heart attack when the concentration used is very high. Doctors may need to perform emergency medical services if major complications occur during the procedure.
The results of a dobutamine echocardiogram are usually made available in a few hours or days after the test. A cardiologist reviews the images and discusses the results in detail with the patient. The doctor can explain different medical or surgical treatment options if a significant problem is discovered.