What is cardiovascular ultrasound?

It is the use of sound waves to create images of the heart and blood vessels that allows us to diagnose and assess cardiac and vascular diseases. This non-invasive procedure uses a special ultrasound camera placed on top of the skin and emits safe sound waves into the body. The sound waves meet the structure in the body and reflect (or echo) back to the camera, which then processes them into images.

Watch a video of Shaun’s journey through the Echo Lab to learn what to expect if you are coming to SickKids for one of these tests: an echocardiogram (echo), a vascular ultrasound or a bicycle stress echo:

Cardiac imaging (a.k.a. echo)

An echocardiogram, or ‘echo’, is an ultrasound of the heart. From new-born babies to young adults, we perform echocardiograms to assess the structure, function and blood flow of the heart. We even image babies’ hearts before they are born!

Ultrasound image of a normal heart demonstrating the right atrium (RA), the right ventricle (RV), the left atrium (LA), and the left ventricle (LV)​.

Ultrasound image of a heart with hypoplastic left heart syndrome demonstrating the right atrium (RA), a dilated right ventricle (RV), the left atrium (LA), and a small left ventricle (LV).

Vascular imaging and assessment

Our lab also acquires ultrasound images of the body’s blood vessels to study the interactions between them and the pumping of the heart. This interaction, known as ventricular-arterial coupling, is a key determinant of cardiovascular performance. For example, adults with abnormal arterial stiffness and a mismatch between ventricular and arterial stiffness have been found to have a greatly increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Ultrasound image of the radial artery of the arm. Captured using high frequency ultrasound technique.

Bicycle stress echo

We operate a busy exercise stress echo program that is quite unique in the paediatric population. We perform ultrasounds of the heart on children while on a supine bicycle. This allows us to compare how the heart works at rest and during exercise.

Ultrasound image of the heart while the subject is resting, right before the first exercise stage of bicycle stress echo (Heart rate = 90 beats per minute).

Ultrasound image of the same heart, during the peak exercise stage of a bicycle stress echo (Heart rate = 148 beats per minute).

Participating in Research

We are studying the heart and blood vessels in healthy children and young adults to better understand heart health in children and adults with heart disease.

Healthy children and young adults up to 30 years of age who are not on any medication nor have any history of heart disease.

We will perform a heart scan using sound waves (echocardiogram) and assess the blood vessels using pressure sensors placed on the arm. The tests are very safe, and there are no known risks. The testing will take one to two hours.

Although there are no direct benefits to participating, your involvement in this study could benefit children, adolescents, and adults living with heart disease.

If you or someone you know might be interested, or would like more information, please contact us at CVUS.research@sickkids.ca

Learn more about this research opportunity!

Ultrasound image of abnormal blood flow from the pulmonary veins to a vertical vein. Captured using colour flow imaging.

Photos of the imaging lab

Learn more about the heart!

Learn about how the heart works in this interactive AboutKidsHealth page! Discover anatomy of the heart, how the blood flows, and more!
Preview image of the interactive website AboutKidsHealth.ca which illustrates how the heart works. This image shows an illustration of Step 1 of how blood flows to the heart, where deoxygenated blood from the upper and lower body and enters the right atrium of the heart.

Image courtesy of AboutKidsHealth