This is an imaging test that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to take pictures of the heart while it is beating. You will be asked to undress from the waist up, so be sure to wear two-piece attire, and put on a paper gown. You will then be asked to lie on the exam table and an IV will be placed in the hand or arm. Saline solution is gently agitated to create “microbubbles” and then injected into the IV. During the cardiac echo, the bubbles reflect the sound waves, which make them appear opaque.
This fluid circulates up to the right side of your heart and shows up on the echocardiogram image. You may be asked to squeeze your stomach muscles, which briefly increases the pressure in the heart’s right side.
Normally, our lungs will simply filter out the bubbles. But if you have a tiny opening between our heart’s upper chambers (the right and left atria), some bubbles will move through that hole and appear on the left side of the heart.
This opening is called a patent foramen ovale (PFO). About one in four people have this finding, which occurs when the hole-which is present in everyone before birth as a normal part of development- fails to close fully.
A bubble study may also show a different type of opening in the wall between the atria, known as an atrial septal defect, these are usually discovered and repaired in childhood but may go unnoticed until later in life. Depending on the size of the hole, these defects may need to be closed to prevent strain on the heart and heart failure over time.
When the test is complete the IV will be removed. You will be able to dress, and the test is complete. Your doctor will review the test results, and these will be discussed with you at a later date.