Echocardiogram under sedation

This page explains about echocardiograms and what to expect when your child comes to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) to have this procedure.

What is an echocardiogram?

Jack and mum having Echo ultrasound 4 - Side on

An echocardiogram (echo) is a non-invasive, high frequency ultrasound scan of the heart.

Echos are one of the most frequently used scans for diagnosing heart problems. It lets us evaluate the structure, function and blood flow through the heart.

What happens before the scan?

Sometimes an echocardiogram is carried out while your child is under sedation. This is because they need to lie very still throughout the procedure and it can take a while.

It is very important that your child’s stomach is as empty as possible on the day of the procedure, as this reduces the risk of vomiting during and after the sedation. If someone vomits under sedation, there is a chance that the stomach contents could get into the lungs, damaging them.

Your child’s nurse will explain exactly what time your child can last eat or drink before the scan, but as a general rule, they will need to fast (not eat or drink anything) for four hours beforehand. The sedation is given an hour before the scan is scheduled, usually as a liquid medicine for your child to swallow.

What does it involve?

Your child will lie on a bed next to the echo machine. The scan can last from 20 to 60 minutes. The reason we would need to sedate your child is that he or she must lay very still and quietly to get the best quality picture.

This will usually give us enough information to plan your child’s treatment. Echo scans are just one part of a series of tests and scans that allow the doctor to monitor your child’s heart and plan treatment.

Are there any risks?

There are no risks associated with an echo scan. The gel used causes no harm and the echo itself is painless with no lasting effects.

What happens after the scan?

Unless your child is admitted for other tests, you will be able to take them home once they have woken up and has had a drink. The nurses will tell you what sort of sedation your child has had, in case of later side effects.

The following information should help you care for your child when you first go home:

  • Children are generally sleepier than usual for 24 hours after sedation. This is because the effects of the sedative last for about a day.
  • If your child is unduly sleepy or difficult to rouse, make sure they are in a safe position on their side and ring your GP.
  • Make sure that your child could tolerate a juice drink before offering anything to eat.
  • Give milk only if your child does not feel sick or vomit.
  • Your child may have mood changes, which can make them irritable ‑ this is temporary.
  • Keep a close watch on your child until they are back to normal ‑ do not leave them with an inexperienced carer.
  • If your child is on any medication, give this as normal.
Compiled by: 
The Echocardiogram/Cardiology Technician in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group.
Last review date: 
January 2013


Please note this is a generic GOSH information sheet. If you have specific questions about how this relates to your child, please ask your doctor. Please note this information may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals.