Cardiac Imaging Contact number | 202-476-2020

A child watches with a cardiac specialist during an echocardiography imaging procedure to obtain images of his heart.

Clear Images and Fewer Side Effects

Children's and the NIH have created a state-of-the-art cardiac imaging and intervention site dedicated to finding better methods for children.

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At Children’s, we don’t just use the latest technology—we are active in developing newer and safer ways to perform imaging scans. For example, our team pioneered the use of digital echocardiography, a noninvasive ultrasound of the heart. We performed the nation’s first Interventional Cardiac MRI right heart catheterization on a pediatric patient in 2015. At Children’s, our heart specialists perform thousands of imaging scans every year, giving us unparalleled experience and expertise.

Cardiac Imaging at Children’s: Why Choose Us

Our advanced, sophisticated imaging labs, including our echocardiography laboratory and dedicated cardiac magnetic resonance imaging laboratory, are some of the busiest in the nation. We perform more than 18,000 echocardiograph studies and hundreds of MRI scans per year.

Features of our imaging labs include:

  • Highly specialized team: Our team has expertise in the full spectrum of cardiac imaging, including transesophageal, fetal, three-dimensional, intracardiac, and stress echocardiography, as well as vascular ultrasound and cardiac MRI.
  • Dedicated suites: We designed our imaging labs to provide the most advanced heart studies. Our new Interventional Cardiac MRI program has developed innovative techniques that previously were only available at the NIH campus. For example, the X-ray MRI (XMR) suite combines a catheterization laboratory with an MRI system to allow for superior imaging during catheterization procedures.
  • High volume: Our team performs more than 18,000 echocardiograph studies per year and nearly 3,000 fetal echocardiographs. In addition, we perform hundreds of cardiac MRIs every year. What do these numbers mean for you? High volume means that we have a superior depth of expertise, ensuring we perform these studies safely and accurately.
  • World-renowned experts: Some of the world’s leading experts in echocardiograph are working right here at Children’s, using and developing advanced echocardiograph technology. In addition, we collaborate with researchers and physicians at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute/National Institutes of Health (NHLBI/NIH) to advance the field of cardiac MRI.

Echocardiography at Children’s 

Echocardiography, sometimes called echocardiogram, is an ultrasound of the heart. Children’s pediatric echocardiography laboratory, the world’s first, is one of the busiest in the United States, performing more than 18,000 studies annually. We are a national leader in noninvasive imaging of congenital heart disease.

Our renowned lab includes:

  • International experts in pediatric echocardiography
  • Advanced echocardiograph technology including:
    • Transesophageal 
    • Fetal 
    • 3-D 
    • Stress
    • Vascular ultrasound
    • Intracardiac echo, where we place a tiny probe on the end of a catheter in order to guide physicians during procedures such as septal defect closure. The probe gives us detailed images of the heart so we can perform the most accurate procedure possible.
  • Seamless care, no matter where you are: In an instant, physicians from around the region and around the world can send echocardiograph studies to our experts for review. 
  • Advancing the field: Our echocardiograph specialists are involved in research projects, including assessing the heart function of children with sickle cell disease and 3-D printing from an ultrasound.

During an echocardiogram:

  1. We place a special jelly on your child’s chest.
  2. We then pass a transducer, a wand-like device, over the skin.
  3. Sound waves capture images of your child’s heart and valves. We can see the images on a nearby monitor.
  4. The test lasts about 15–20 minutes.

Cardiac MRI

Cardiac MRI is a noninvasive imaging scan that uses powerful magnetic technology to get clear, detailed pictures of your child’s heart structure and function. In addition to our sophisticated lab, we partner with National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. Together, we are working to develop new MRI techniques to help us diagnose and treat children and adults with congenital heart disease.

We use cardiac MRI to:

  • Diagnose congenital heart defects 
  • Provide noninvasive evaluation for complex conditions, such as tetralogy of Fallot, coarctation of the aorta, certain rhythm abnormalities, cardiomyopathies, and patients with single ventricle anatomy. 
  • Provide a comprehensive noninvasive cardiac evaluation for older adolescents and adults with congenital heart disease, as echocardiography may be somewhat limiting with larger body sizes.

We perform cardiac MRI scans in our dedicated lab. During the scan:

  1. Your child lies on a table in the middle of the MRI machine, which is shaped like a tunnel.
  2. Your child will need to lie perfectly still during certain portions of the test, when we are taking the pictures. We may give your child medicine before the test so he or she can stay still enough to allow us to take excellent images.  
  3. You may accompany your child in the room during the test, as long as you are not pregnant and you remove all metal objects and jewelry. 
  4. If we do the scan with contrast, we will need to insert an IV into your child before the test. 
  5. The test lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to one hour.

Interventional Cardiac MRI (ICMR) Program

Through a partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), we offer an Interventional Cardiac MRI for our patients. This is a specialized cardiac-specific MRI suite we use for diagnosis, evaluation, and intervention of newborns and children with congenital heart disease.

One of the main advantages of MRI scans is that children are not exposed to the radiation of X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans. As children with congenital heart defects are thriving, living longer and fuller lives than ever before, it is increasingly important that we are able to monitor their health in the safest way possible.

Additionally, we can perform MRI and cardiac catheterization procedures on the same day. This reduces the need for sedation and multiple procedures.

Features of this program include:

  • Specialized team: We have worked with leading clinicians, engineers, physicists, and other scientists to develop even safer and more accurate cardiovascular MRI (CMR) techniques.
  • Combined X-ray MRI (XMR) suite: We combine the advantages of both X-rays and MRI in one advanced suite.
  • Full range of diagnostic technology:
    • Two- and three-dimensional imaging focusing on evaluating the structure and function of the heart, as well as muscle injury
    • Noninvasive measurement of blood flow velocity (speed) and volume
    • Prenatal diagnosis of congenital defects
    • Developing techniques to shorten the time it takes to obtain the images as well as techniques for fetal cardiac MRI

The Future of Pediatric Cardiac MRI

Children’s National is currently using the next generation of imaging: XFM scans, which combine X-ray with MRI. In these studies, we use radiation-free CMR images to guide cardiac catheterization in order to minimize radiation requirements. Future developments include undergoing cardiac catheterization entirely in the CMR scanner, which will dramatically minimize X-ray exposure.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with our experienced pediatric heart team, please call 202-476-2020.

Brayden's Story

Pulmonary Atresia

"The world of congenital heart defects is scary, but to know that there are people like those at Children's National to help guide you along the way is very comforting."

Brayden's Story

The Cardiac Imaging Team

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