Bubble contrast echocardiogram

Bubble study

A specialised ultrasound study, used to detect connections between the right and left side of the heart

What is a bubble study?

A bubble saline contrast echocardiogram can help to diagnose a patent foramen ovale (PFO) or an atrial septal defect (ASD). This is a congenital defect where the valve separating the left and right heart chambers (atrial septums) stays open after birth. It's commonly known as a hole in the heart. Normally, the valve should close spontaneously.

During the test, salt water (saline) bubbles are injected into the blood stream and a cardio consultant watches on screen as they flow into the heart. A normal heart should retain the bubbles within the right-hand chamber (atrium), but if the bubbles leak into the left hand side, it indicates that the valve is still open.

Need to know

  • What happens during a bubble contrast echocardiogram? icon plus

    A small drip will be placed into your left or right arm to allow the injection of bubbles into your blood stream. Small sticky sensors (electrodes) connected to an ultrasound machine will be attached to your chest to monitor your heart rhythm.

    You will then be asked to lie on your left hand side with your left arm above your head, allowing for better images to be acquired. Ultrasound gel and a small hand-held probe (transducer) is then applied to your chest to take pictures of your heart. After views of your heart have been acquired, 1 ml of your own blood will be mixed with 1 ml of air and 8 mls of a sterile saline solution.

    The bubbles that created are injected into your blood stream. Your consultant will observe how the solution fills your heart chambers on a screen. The test lasts around 30 minutes in total. 
  • How to prepare icon plus

    Your consultant will explain the bubble echocardiogram to you and answer any questions you may have.
  • After the procedure icon plus

    Your consultant will let you know the results of the test. If the test shows there is a problem with the heart valve, your consultant will discuss further treatment with you.

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From complex cardiothoracic surgery to diagnostic tests and procedures, we provide exceptional cardiac care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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