Should my child have an echocardiogram?

Written by: Dr Alessandro Giardini
Published:
Edited by: Robert Smith

An echocardiogram or echo test is often used to study the structure of the heart and how the heart and the valves are working.
 

 


In this article, we spoke with a leading paediatric cardiologist, Dr Alessandro Giardini  to find out what symptoms indicate a child should have an echocardiogram, what conditions an echo test can diagnose, and what steps should be taken after a child has had the test.
 

What signs indicate a child needs an echo test?

The main reasons to have an echo test is to make sure there’s no structural problems in the heart and to make sure the heart is functioning normally. An echo test is usually done if the child has heart symptoms such as:

  • breathlessness
  • chest pain
  • heart racing
     

Another group of children who may need to have an echocardiogram even if they have no symptoms of cardiac disease are those with heart murmurs. Whilst the child is being assessed with an echo test we normally check for murmurs too. Sometimes in children the murmur can be caused by an underlying heart problem. Your paediatric cardiologist would be able to identify and the explain the cause of the murmur.
 

Is the test safe for children?

Yes. The echocardiogram is non invasive and not dangerous.
 

What conditions can it diagnose?

It can diagnose holes in the heart, leaky valves and it checks whether the heart is functioning ok. All these problems can also cause the heart to become tired.
 

How is the echo test performed?

Basically, by using an ultrasound machine, no radiation is released. There’s a little probe which is like a small microphone that hears very high frequency sounds. To perform an echo test properly, some gel needs to be put on top of the probe. We then move the probe in different places over the tummy or chest of the child to see how the heart is beating to ensure that the child doesn’t have problems. An echo test usually takes 10 - 15 minutes. The results are immediate.


Is the test as effective with children as with adults?

Yes, absolutely. Actually, the test is even more effective in children as the quality for the images is a lot better.
 

What should a child's echo result look like?

The results from the echo test would show that the heart has no structural problems, no congenital heart defects and that the function is normal.
 

Depending on the results, what are the most common next steps?

Normally after having an echo test, there’s not any immediate steps to take. If no underlying significant problem is found then very often you can be discharged. If your child requires immediate treatment or a medication then that would need to be addressed. A small minority of children may require keyhole surgery or open-heart surgery.
 

If you feel your child may require an echo test then you may like to get in touch with a leading paediatric cardiologist such as Dr Alessandro Giardini . Visit his Top Doctors profile today for information on appointment availability.

By Dr Alessandro Giardini
Paediatric cardiology

Dr Alessandro Giardini is an award-winning and leading cardiologist based at the world-renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London, specialising in paediatric cardiology. An expert on congenital heart disease, Dr Giardini is the lead of inpatient services at GOSH, and also provides outpatient consultations for all manner of heart problems in children, including palpitations, heart murmurs, chest pain, and heart valve issues. He also privately practices at The Harley Street Clinic Children's Hospital, The Portland Hospital and Chase Lodge Hospital, alongside Bupa Cromwell Hospital.

Dr Giardini's experience in congenital heart disease extends to the diagnosis and management of a wide range of defects in babies, children and adolescents. His GOSH unit has pioneered techniques including transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement and Dr Giardini's involvement in paediatric cardiac research means his patients are treated according to the latest and most successful techniques.

Dr Giardini, who is a Top Doctors 2021 award winner, also leads specialist clinics for children with paediatric hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He's highly regarded for expertise in providing guidance for children and adolescents with documented cardiac disease and those with symptoms during exercise, such as palpitations, chest pains or fainting/syncope.  

His philosophy is a patient-centric approach, delivering treatment with compassion and understanding, and personalising his consultations and treatment to each child and their family.    ​

Dr Giardini has a medical degree and a PhD (in the pathology of heart failure in patients with congenital heart defects) from the University of Bologna's (Italy) School of Medicine. Dr Giardini went on to undergo extensive training in paediatric cardiology both in Bologna and in San Francisco, USA. He is actively involved in research, having published over 120 articles in peer-reviewed journals.  

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