Cardiac Testing for Children

Specialists at Rush University Children’s Hospital value your child’s heart. When pediatricians detect an issue, they are committed to getting to the root of the problem.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Making a difference with personalized care: Our team of pediatric heart specialists takes treatment of kids and their hearts very seriously. We deliver compassionate care for children, from newborns to teens, and treat every condition from congenital heart disorders to acquired ones.
  • Comprehensive cardiac testing: One size does not fit all in terms of kids’ heart needs. That’s why we offer a full range of cardiac testing to understand what’s at the source of your child’s heart condition. We then provide multiple options to get your child’s heart back on track.
  • Nationally recognized heart specialists: Pediatric cardiologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital are leading experts in treating complex heart disorders. They offer children the latest treatments, including minimally invasive procedures and innovative devices.
  • Care close to home: Pediatric cardiologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital see patients at a number of convenient locations. They are available at our three hospital locations — Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Rush Oak Park Hospital in Oak Park and Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora — and also at satellite locations throughout the city and the suburbs, including Joliet, Hoffman Estates, Tinley Park and Crown Point, IN.

What is cardiac testing for children?

To help better understand the cause of a heart problem, your child’s pediatrician will refer your child to a pediatric cardiologist who will evaluate your child’s condition and determines the appropriate cardiac testing to properly diagnose your child. Cardiac testing can also help your child’s care team determine the best treatment for your child.

Types of cardiac testing

The types of cardiac testing your child receives are based on a variety of factors including the following:

  • Family and medical history
  • Symptoms
  • Risk factors

Possible cardiac tests can include some of the following:

Cardiac catheterization

Some heart conditions in children can be diagnosed and treated using cardiac catheterization. This cardiac test requires a pediatric cardiologist to place a thin, flexible tube into the blood vessel of your child’s neck or groin and then thread it into the heart.

Once the catheter is in, your child’s pediatric cardiologist can take blood and heart muscle samples, as well as perform the following procedures:

  • Angiography: A procedure that uses a contrast dye and X-rays to take detailed pictures of your child’s heart structure.
  • Angioplasty: A procedure to widen a vessel and restore blood flow.
  • Valvuloplasty: A procedure to open up a narrowed valve.

Cardiac imaging: CT scan

A cardiac computed tomography (CT) scan takes a detailed picture of your child’s heart and blood vessels using X-rays. Your child receives a contrast dye injection, which highlights the heart and nearby blood vessels. Next, your child enters the scanner (a large tunnel-like machine), which takes pictures for several minutes. This painless test combines the images to make a 3D model of your child’s heart.

By examining these images, your child’s pediatric cardiologist can determine if your child has any of the following:

  • Abnormal coronary artery location
  • Issues with the aorta and other nearby vessels
  • Pericardial diseases (diseases that cause swelling of the membrane around the heart)

Cardiac imaging: MRI

A cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test creates detailed images of your child’s heart using magnets, radio waves and a computer. The procedure and machine are similar to the CT scan; however, this test may take quite a bit longer to capture images.

Cardiac MRIs help pediatric cardiologists determine whether your child has heart disease and how severe it is. This test can also help your child’s care team determine the best course of treatment for the following heart problems:

  • Cardiac tumors
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack damage
  • Heart valve problems
  • Pericarditis


When moving pictures of your child’s heart are required, pediatric cardiologists use an echocardiogram, or echo. The images reveal the size and shape of your child’s heart and how well the chambers and valves work.

A technician will apply a gel to your child’s chest, which helps soundwaves reach the heart. When a wand-like device called a transducer is moved around your child’s chest over the gel, it transmits ultrasound waves into the chest. These waves bounce, or echo, back. The computer, which is connected to the transducer, converts the echoes into pictures of the heart that can reveal issues with the heart and how it works.

Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG)

An electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG) is a painless cardiac test that records the electrical activity of your child’s heart. It shows the speed of your child’s heartbeat and whether its rhythm is steady or abnormal.

The test requires your child to lie on a table with patches with sensors called electrodes on the arms, chest and legs. The electrodes have wires connected to a machine that records your child’s heart activity.

Pediatric cardiologists or pediatric electrophysiologists may use this test to detect the following problems:

  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart attacks
  • Heart failure
  • Heart enlargement or heart muscle thickening

Electrophysiology study

During a cardiac catheterization, your child may also have an electrophysiology or EP study done. A pediatric cardiologist will usually administer this test when your child has already been diagnosed with a specific arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat.

The EP study uses a catheter to send electrical signals to your child’s heart and then records the heart’s electrical activity. From this, your child’s care team can find areas with unusual electrical activity.

Your child may receive an EP study to determine the following:

  • The source of an arrhythmia
  • Medication effectiveness to treat arrhythmia
  • If catheter ablation is necessary, where the area inside your child’s heart with the abnormal electrical signal gets treated
  • If a pacemaker or implantable defibrillator may help your child
  • If your child is at risk for fainting or cardiac arrest, when the heart stops beating

Exercise physiology

To see how your child’s heart works when under physical stress, exercise physiology or a physical stress test may be done. By examining the heart during physical activity, pediatric cardiologists can identify the following:

  • Coronary artery disease and its severity
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve disease

Your child will do exercises to make the heart beat fast and work hard. At the same time, your child receives an EKG and blood pressure is monitored. .

Your child may also need a stress echo, which takes pictures of the heart at the end of the test.