Symptoms, adverse effects, and complications associated with dobutamine stress echocardiography: Experience in 1118 patients

H. Mertes, S. G. Sawada, T. Ryan, D. S. Segar, R. Kovacs, J. Foltz, H. Feigenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

326 Scopus citations


Background. The use of dobutamine stress echocardiography for the evaluation of coronary artery disease is rapidly expanding. New applications of the technique are being investigated in a wide variety of patients including those with advanced coronary artery disease. Despite its widespread use, the safety of dobutamine stress echocardiography has not been sufficiently documented. Methods and Results. A consecutive series of 1118 patients undergoing dobutamine stress echocardiography for evaluation of known or suspected coronary artery disease form the basis of this report. Dobutamine stress testing was performed for evaluation of chest pain, risk assessment before noncardiac surgery, after recent myocardial infarction, or as a part of ongoing research protocols. Over the study period, the maximal dose of dobutamine used was increased from 30 to 50 μg/kg per minute, and atropine was used in 420 (37%) patients. There were no occurrences of death, myocardial infarction, or episodes of sustained ventricular tachycardia as a result of dobutamine stress testing. The major reasons for test termination were achievement of target heart rate in 583 patients (52.1%), maximum dose in 255 (22.8%), and angina pectoris in 142 (13%). The test was terminated in 36 (3%) patients because of noncardiac side effects including nausea, anxiety, headache, tremor, and urgency. Angina pectoris occurred in 216 (19.3%) patients. Sublingual nitroglycerin, a short-acting β-blocker, or both types of medication were administered in 80 of these patients for relief of angina pectoris. None required intravenous nitroglycerin. A total of 736 (65%) patients had stable sinus rhythm throughout the test. The most common arrhythmias were frequent premature ventricular complexes (six or more per minute) in 172 patients (15%), and frequent premature atrial complexes in 86 (8%). There were 40 patients with nonsustained ventricular tachycardia. None had symptoms associated with the tachycardia, and only one received specific pharmacological treatment to prevent recurrence of the arrhythmia after the test was terminated. The patients who were evaluated after recent myocardial infarction and those who received atropine did not have a higher frequency of ventricular tachycardia compared with those without recent infarction and those not receiving atropine. Conclusions. Dobutamine stress echocardiography was safely performed using supplemental atropine and an aggressive dosing protocol. Noncardiac side effects were usually minor. Arrhythmias were well tolerated and rarely required treatment. In this study, serious complications from myocardial ischemia did not occur. Symptomatic ischemia was effectively treated with test termination, sublingual nitroglycerin, or short-acting β-blockers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-19
Number of pages5
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1993


  • Catecholamines
  • Nonexercise stress testing
  • Side effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine

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