A dobutamine (stress) echo combines a normal echo with a drug (dobutamine).

Performing an echo during exercise will help us find the cause of symptoms you may experience during physical stress or exercise. 

Getting high-quality pictures of the heart during exercise can be difficult. They can be affected by deep breathing and muscle tremor (shivers). For some patients, they are not able to exercise which can make performing an echo difficult.

As an alternative, we use a drug called dobutamine. This drug has similar effects to exercise on the heart and circulation. It increases your heart rate and the strength of its contractions without exercising.

The test

When you have the test, we will ask you to remove any clothing from the waist up. you will then lie down on an echo bed. We will attach 12 small sticky patches (electrodes) to your chest. This helps us to record your echo and electrical activity of your heart (electrocardiogram or ECG).

We then insert a small plastic tube (cannula) into a vein in your arm. We will take the first echo images and then inject a very low dose of Dobutamine through the cannula in your vein. 

We increase the drug in small doses every three minutes. We may also give you a dose of contrast (dye), which outlines the heart and makes the pictures easier to read. 

The dye should not have any major side effects for most people, but you must let us know if you have any allergies or concerns.

When you have the test, you will notice that your heart is beating faster and stronger, as if you were exercising. When you reach your target heart rate - which we calculate based on your age - we will stop giving you the drug.

We may stop giving you the drug early if you start experiencing:

  • chest discomfort

  • shortness of breath

  • weakness

  • dizziness

  • significant changes in your blood pressure or ECG.

Once we stop giving you the drug, we will take a second echo. The effects of the drug will wear off in two to three minutes.

If your heart rate does not increase enough, we may give you another drug called atropine.

Before the test

You may need to stop taking specific heart medicines two to four days before the test. We will tell you when you book your appointment if you need to do this. If you are unsure, ask. It is best to not eat a heavy meal in the two hours before your test.

You will not be allowed to drive after this test, so you will need to arrange for someone to drive you home.

You must tell us if you are:

  • pregnant or think that you may be pregnant (there is a risk of injury to the fetus from dobutamine)
  • lactating or breastfeeding
  • allergic or sensitive to medications or latex.

The test can take up to an hour, including preparation and recovery time. Once you feel recovered, you can usually go straight home.


This test helps us to find out why you are experiencing symptoms from physical stress or exercise. We would do this test if you cannot do our normal exercise test.

We are able to get high-quality images of your heart with deep breathing or muscle tremors interfering with the images.

We also use this test to check if certain parts of the heart have experienced permanent damage after a heart attack or can recover.

This information will help us decide and manage your treatment.

There are currently no related conditions associated with this test.

Risks of the test

There are no known risks from the clinical use of ultrasound for scanning. The dobutamine (stress) test is very safe and often used in patients with chest pain or who have symptoms that limit their ability to exercise.

A few patients may experience flushing of the face and/or minor palpitations during the test. But these will go away very quickly when we stop the test.  

You may also notice symptoms that you would otherwise have developed during normal exercise. These include:

  • chest pain

  • breathlessness

  • dizzy spells

These usually go away when we stop the test.

We use this test a lot for patients with suspected or existing coronary artery disease.

There is a very small risk of serious side effects such as heart attack or stroke in these patients but serious side effects are very rare.


The exercise (stress) echo is an alternative test if you are able to exercise, but it is more difficult to get high-quality images of the heart. 

Your cardiologist will request this test if they believe it will help to diagnose your condition and/or decide on your treatment better than other tests can. 

You should talk about any concerns you may have about the test with your cardiologist.

Where to find us

Royal Brompton Hospital

Level 3, Chelsea wing, Royal Brompton Hospital, SW3 6NP
Availability: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm
Tel: +44 (0)20 7351 8209
Fax: +44 (0)20 7351 8604

Harefield Hospital

Echocardiography clinic room, Outpatients department, Harefield Hospital, UB9 6JH
Availability: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm
Tel: +44 (0)1895 823737 ext: 5586