What to Expect at Your First Visit
You or your child may be anxious about visiting a pediatric cardiologist. We are here to help you both through this process, provide as much information as possible about your child’s heart and ease any concerns. You can take comfort in knowing that the majority of our new patient evaluations actually rule out a heart problem.
Many things may be involved in evaluating a child’s heart including:
- A thorough history: We can often get a good sense of what is going on just by talking to you and your child about symptoms as well as past medical history and family history.
- A physical exam: We will perform a thorough evaluation of the cardiovascular system. This involves feeling the pulse in the upper and lower extremities, feeling the abdomen and chest wall, and listening carefully to the heart and lungs. To adequately evaluate the heart, patients usually need to wear a hospital gown.
- An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This measures the electrical activity of the heart and shows the heart rhythm. It involves putting many stickers on the chest wall, which are then hooked up to wires attached to the ECG machine. The stickers have to be particularly sticky in order to make enough contact with the chest; consequently, the stickers are sometimes difficult to remove.
- An echocardiogram (echo): An echocardiogram is another name for an ultrasound of the heart. It is the same type of technology used to look at a fetus when a mother is pregnant. To obtain images of the heart, we use something called a probe, which is placed on the chest wall and abdomen to visualize the heart. Gel on the probe helps transmit the sound waves through the skin and back to the probe. Though we use gel warmers, the gel still often feels cold on the skin. There is no radiation involved in this test—only sound waves.
Other less frequently used tests include a Holter monitor, a stress test, or other imaging, including a cardiac MRI. Not every patient requires tests. Your cardiologist will decide what is needed based on your specific indications.
Your visit may take an hour or longer, depending on what tests are ordered and how long they take. There may be a wait, particularly if a patient has a new, complex diagnosis. We spend the time needed with each patient to perform a thorough evaluation and explain the diagnosis in detail, as well as prescribe any necessary treatment or follow-up.
Helping patients feel at ease
Girls and young women may have added anxiety when visiting the pediatric cardiologist since it is usually necessary to wear a hospital gown and the chest area may be exposed. For ECGs, stickers will be placed directly on the chest wall; for echocardiograms, a probe with gel will be placed on the chest wall and moved around to obtain clear images of the heart; and for examinations, the physician will need to feel the pulses and chest wall and listen to the heart, the majority of which lies under the left breast. We understand that this experience may make some patients feel uncomfortable. We do our best to protect each patient’s modesty and encourage you to let us know if you have any questions or concerns.