A doctor can request a bubble echocardiogram to check for abnormal flows of blood through and around the heart. This procedure can allow a cardiologist to identify a heart defect that might cause complications later in life. If a patient has a condition that shows up on bubble echocardiography, the doctor can perform an evaluation to determine whether surgery and other treatments are necessary to address the issue.
In a bubble echocardiogram, an ultrasound technician visualizes the heart with the use of ultrasound. This provides a real-time display of the heartbeat and the movement of fluid through the heart. The technician injects a saline solution that contains tiny suspended air bubbles, which are created by agitating the solution just before injecting it. These bubbles can be seen on the ultrasound as they move through the heart, allowing the technician to look for blood that flows in an unusual pattern or direction.
Normally, blood should not pass directly between the left and right sides of the heart. A bubble echocardiogram can reveal that blood is passing through a defect such as a patent foramen ovale (PFO) or atrial septal defect (ASD), a hole in the heart. These defects can create problems, such as exposing the patient to the risk of a stroke from a blood clot and forcing the patient's heart to work harder to keep blood in circulation.
Doctors might consider a bubble echocardiogram if a patient has symptoms that are indicative of a problem with the heart, to determine whether a problem is present and to learn more about it. This might occur at a very young age, because very young children who have heart defects are often easy to spot in routine diagnostic screening. They might be short of breath or could have abnormal heart sounds suggestive of a defect in the structure of the heart. The test can reveal a defect and provide information about its severity.
Patients and family members should not panic if a doctor asks for a bubble echocardiogram. Although doctors do not order this test unless they think there is something wrong, the patient might not have a heart condition or might have a mild condition that does not require any additional action. Patients who have concerns about the outcome of the test can discuss their concerns before the test. The doctor can offer more information about what the test will look for and what kinds of treatment options might be available if the patient needs treatment.