Evolution of dobutamine echocardiography protocols and indications: safety and side effects in 3,011 studies over 5 years

J Am Coll Cardiol. 1997 May;29(6):1234-40. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(97)00039-9.


Objectives: This study sought to document the safety of dobutamine stress echocardiography as it has evolved at a single center and to define predictors of adverse events.

Background: The indications and protocol for dobutamine stress testing have evolved over 5 years of clinical use, but the influence of these changes on the safety and side effects of the test is undefined.

Methods: Over 5 years, 3,011 consecutive dobutamine stress studies were performed in 2,871 patients, using an incremental protocol from 5 to 40 micrograms/kg body weight per min in 3-min stages, followed by atropine or an additional stage with 50 micrograms/kg per min, if required. Clinical data were gathered prospectively, and hemodynamic and echocardiographic findings were recorded at each stage, including recovery. Dobutamine echocardiography was defined as positive for ischemia in the presence of new or worsening wall motion abnormalities; in the absence of ischemia, failure to attain 85% of age-predicted maximal heart rate was identified as a nondiagnostic result.

Results: Studies were performed for risk assessment (70%) and symptom evaluation (30%); over the study period, there was an increment in the use of dobutamine echocardiography for preoperative evaluation. Most tests (n = 2,194 [73%]) were terminated due to attainment of peak dose with achievement of target heart rate (> 85% maximal age-predicted heart rate); 455 patients (15%) failed to achieve > 85% maximal predicted heart rate despite maximal doses of dobutamine and atropine. The protocol was stopped prematurely in 230 patients (7.6%) because of side effects, including ventricular (n = 27 [0.9%]) and supraventricular rhythm disorders (n = 22 [0.7%]), severe hypertension (n = 24 [0.8%]) and hypotension or left ventricular outflow tract obstruction (n = 112 [3.8%]). Noncardiac symptoms, such as headache, nausea or anxiety, caused early test termination in 45 patients (1.6%). The remaining tests were stopped because of severe chest pain (n = 106 [3.5%]) or severe ischemia by echocardiography (n = 26 [0.9%]). Serious complications occurred in nine patients, including sustained ventricular tachycardia in five, myocardial infarction in one and other conditions in three requiring hospital admission (sustained supraventricular tachycardia, hypotension, suspected myocardial infarction), but neither ventricular fibrillation nor death occurred. Independent predictors of serious complications could not be defined. Over 5 years, higher dose protocols and more frequent use of atropine have raised the number of diagnostic protocols from 59% to 80%, without increasing the incidence of major side effects.

Conclusions: Despite the use of more aggressive protocols and alterations of the indications for testing to include sicker patients, major side effects are a rare complication of dobutamine echocardiography.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / adverse effects*
  • Aged
  • Coronary Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Coronary Disease / epidemiology
  • Dobutamine / adverse effects*
  • Echocardiography* / methods
  • Echocardiography* / statistics & numerical data
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Assessment
  • Safety


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Dobutamine