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Pharmacologic Stress Echocardiography

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 2, 2022.

What is pharmacologic stress echocardiography?

Pharmacologic stress echocardiography (echo) uses medicine to make your heart work just as it does when you exercise. This test shows the valves, muscle, and walls of the heart. It is used to check for heart damage, blockage, or problems with the heart walls.

Why may I need a pharmacologic stress echo?

A pharmacologic stress echo is done for those who have heart-related symptoms but cannot exercise. Caregivers may also use a pharmacologic stress echo to do any of the following:

  • Find the cause of symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and weakness
  • Monitor or diagnose a heart condition, such as heart disease or arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats)
  • Check your risk for a heart attack
  • Decide if you can have surgery for another health condition

What medicines are used during a pharmacologic stress echo?

  • Medicine that works on the heart muscles: These increase your heart rate and the strength of contractions (pumping) of your heart muscles. This causes an increase in the blood flow.
  • Medicine that affects the blood vessels of the heart: These cause your arteries to dilate (widen) so that there will be more blood flow.

How is a pharmacologic stress echo done?

This test can be done in a clinic, a caregiver's office, or in a hospital.

  • An IV line is placed in a vein of your arm.
  • Electrodes (sticky patches) are stuck on your chest. Hair may be removed to help the patches stick to your skin. The electrodes will be attached to wires that send the electrical activity of your heart to an ECG monitor.
  • An ECG of your heart is recorded while you are resting.
  • Your caregiver will decide on the type of medicine to be used for your test. The medicine is given slowly by a caregiver, or a pump may be used.
  • ECG tracings will be recorded during and after the medicine is given to you.
  • Pictures of your heart while doing its work will be recorded using an echocardiogram. Echocardiography (ultrasound) uses high-frequency sound waves that show the structure, movement, and blood vessels of your heart.

What may prevent me from having a pharmacological stress echo?

  • You are having an asthma attack.
  • You used medicine that contains dipyridamole within the last 24 hours. Dipyridamole is a blood thinner. Ask your caregiver for more information about medicines that may contain dipyridamole.
  • You have had food or drinks that contain caffeine within the past 12 hours.
  • You have a heart rate of 40 beats per minute or less.
  • You have a low blood pressure reading.
  • You have uncontrolled high blood pressure.

What are the risks of a pharmacological stress echo?

A pharmacologic stress echo may cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded, or weak. You may have throbbing or extra heartbeats, chest pain, or a heart attack.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You feel dizzy or lightheaded.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have sudden trouble breathing.
  • You have chest pain even after you take your medicine.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.