What Is a Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram is a noninvasive (the skin is not pierced) procedure used to assess the heart's function and structures. A dobutamine stress echocardiogram is a diagnostic procedure that may be used when a physician wants to assess the heart muscle under stress, but due to a person’s medical condition, exercise on a treadmill is not an option (too much stress on the heart).

For this procedure, a physician uses an intravenous medication called dobutamine. Dobutamine causes the heart to beat faster and will mimic the effects of exercise on the heart while the echocardiogram is peformed.

During the procedure, a transducer (like a microphone) sends out ultrasonic sound waves at a frequency too high to be heard. When the transducer is placed on the chest at certain locations and angles, the ultrasonic sound waves move through the skin and other body tissues to the heart tissues, where the waves echo off of the heart structures. The transducer picks up the reflected waves and sends them to a computer. The computer interprets the echoes into an image of the heart walls and valves.