Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram

What is a Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram?

A Dobutamine stress echocardiogram is a stress test involving a combination of ultrasound imaging to check the heart muscle and valves and a medication called Dobutamine which is administered to make your heart work as hard as if you were exercising.

The test is generally (but not always) performed on people who are unable to exercise.

Your doctor may use the Dobutamine stress echocardiogram to:

  • Evaluate the function of your heart and valves.
  • Determine how well your heart tolerates activity.
  • Determines the likelihood of you having coronary artery disease (blocked arteries).
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of your cardiac treatment plan.

What to do prior to the test:

  • Bring a list of all your medications and doses with you on the day.
  • Avoid caffeinated products for 2 hours prior to the test (ie Cola drinks, chocolate, energy drinks, tea or coffee).
  • Do not smoke for 4 hours prior to the test.
  • Wear a two piece outfit (ie top and bottom separate) as your top will be removed during the
  • Do not use oils or moisturiser on your chest area prior to the test as this will affect the ability of the electrodes to stay on your chest during the test.

How is the test performed?

After undressing from the waist up, you will be asked to lie on an examining table. The sonographer or doctor will attach sticky patches (electrodes) to your body to monitor your heart rate. An intravenous cannula (IV drip) will be inserted in a vein in your arm for the Dobutamine. The sonographer or doctor will take images of your heart prior to administration of the medication (resting images). At times the sonographer or doctor may also ask you to hold your breath while the images are taken and you may be asked to roll onto your left side. Sometimes the transducer may be held very firmly against your chest. This can be uncomfortable but it helps to produce the best images of your heart.

These images are checked by your doctor and then if he is happy to proceed, the Dobutamine will be given. Images will be acquired before, during and after the Dobutamine infusion. The Dobutamine will be infused continuously through the IV drip until your heart rate has increased enough and it will then be stopped.

It is normal to feel your heart racing and/or you may get a mild headache during the test. If you feel unwell during the test you must inform the sonographer or doctor immediately and the test can be stopped if necessary. Your heart rate and blood pressure will be monitored throughout the test. Once the test is completed, you will be monitored until your heart rate has returned to normal. The gel used for the ultrasound will be wiped away and the electrodes and IV cannula will be removed.

Does Dobutamine have any potential side effects?

You may or may not experience any of these:

  • Dobutamine may temporarily cause a hot flushed sensation
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • Palpitations
  • Low blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Chest pain

Serious complications, such as a heart attack, are rare. There are no known risks associated with the echocardiogram.

What are the risks?

The risks are low. Common risks and complications (more than 5%) include:

  • Mild angina
  • Shortness of breath
  • Musculoskeletal discomfort

Rare risks and complications (less than 1%) include:

  • Abnormal heartbeat that usually settles without treatment
  • Build up of fluid in the lungs. You may need medication to treat this
  • Chest pain. This can be treated with medication
  • Heart attack

Death as a result of this procedure is extremely rare.

In recommending this procedure, your doctor has balanced the benefits and risks of the procedure against the benefits and risks of not proceeding. He believes that there is a net benefit to you going ahead. You will be monitored by your doctor during the entire procedure.


In some cases patients may require contrast to enhance the quality and clarity of their echo pictures.  The charge for contrast is not rebateable by Medicare or healthfunds.  The price for contrast is at cost.  Should you require contrast or would like to know what the charge would be, please contact our reception staff.