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There are a number of tests used to diagnose the presence of heart and cardiovascular disease and determine its extent. (Read about "The Heart & Cardiovascular System") Your doctor will consider your symptoms, your medical and family history (Read about "Family Health History"), your risk factors, and the results of a physical exam to determine which tests will be most appropriate. Here are some of the more common tests.
Angiography (or arteriography) is a procedure to x-ray blood vessels. Coronary angiography (or arteriography) is a test used to explore the coronary arteries. A fine tube (catheter) is put into a blood vessel and maneuvered into a coronary artery. Once the tube is at the heart, dye is injected through this tube. The heart and blood vessels are then filmed while the heart pumps. The picture that is seen, called an angiogram or arteriogram, will show problems such as a blockage caused by heart disease or other problems. A multislice CT angiogram (see below) is a type of angiogram that gives a 3D picture of the heart. (Read about "X-rays" "Coronary Heart Disease" "Vascular System: Arteries and Veins" "Arteriosclerosis & Atherosclerosis" "CT Scan - Computerized Tomography")
Cardiac catheterization is a test used to explore the coronary arteries, using a fine tube (catheter) that's put into an artery or vein of an arm or leg and maneuvered into the arteries of the heart. It can be used in the diagnosis of heart disease. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease")
A chest x-ray takes a picture of your heart and lungs. Usually two views are taken - one from the front and one from the side. It can be used in the diagnosis of a variety of heart and lung problems. (Read about "X-rays" "Coronary Heart Disease" "Respiratory System")
This procedure (also called computerized axial tomography, CT scan or CAT scan) uses x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional or three-dimensional images of the body or head. It can be used in the diagnosis of different cancers, stroke or brain injury. (Read about "Cancer: What It Is" "Stroke" "Head Injury") Electron beam computed tomography (EBCT) is a type of CAT scan that can be used in the diagnosis of heart disease risk (see EBCT) A multislice CT angiogram (see below) is a type of angiogram that gives a 3D picture of the heart. (Read about "CT Scan - Computerized Tomography")
This is a diagnostic imaging technique in which an image of an artery can be formed by bouncing sound waves off the moving blood in the artery and measuring the frequency changes of the echoes. It can be used to diagnose the presence of blood clots or blood flow problems in arteries or veins. (Read about "Ultrasound Imaging")
This test uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart. In a transthoracic echocardiogram, gel is spread on your chest and a device known as a transducer is pressed against your skin, sending an ultrasound beam through your chest to your heart. It works in much the same manner as the ultrasound test performed during pregnancy. (Read about "Ultrasound Imaging") The picture is more detailed than an x-ray image. (Read about "X-rays") There is also a transesophageal echocardiogram, in which the transducer is guided down your esophagus. In a stress echocardiogram, the images of your heart would be taken before or after a period of exercise. An echocardiogram test can be used in the diagnosis of a number of heart conditions including valve disorders, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, enlarged heart and heart attack. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease" "Cardiomyopathy" "The Heart & Its Valves" "Congestive Heart Failure" "Enlarged Heart" "Heart Attack")
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a graphic record of the electrical activity of the heart as it contracts and rests. It can be used in the diagnosis of a number of heart conditions including arrhythmias, and heart attack. (Read about "EKG - Electrocardiogram" "Coronary Heart Disease" "The Heart & Cardiovascular System" "Arrhythmia" "Heart Attack")
This test can be used to identify and measure calcium buildup in and around the coronary arteries. Calcium build-ups can indicate an increased risk of heart disease. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease" and "Heart Risks" "CT Scan - Computerized Tomography")
Cathers, tipped with electrodes, are placed at various locations in the heart by threading them through blood vessels. It allows for the mapping of the electrical impulses through the heart. The heart can be caused to rapidly beat.
An event monitor is a device used by a patient for a 30-day period, to provide an EKG recording of the heart's rhythm. It can be activated when the patient feels chest pain, dizziness or an irregular heartbeat coming on and can be used in the diagnosis of arrhythmias. (Read about "EKG - Electrocardiogram" "Arrhythmia")
This is a type of imaging that measures increases in blood flow within the brain. It can be used in the diagnosis of a number of brain disorders such as cancer and stroke (Read about "MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging" "Brain Tumors" and "Stroke")
A Holter monitor is a device worn by a patient for a continuous period of time (usually 24-48 hours) to provide an EKG recording of the heart's rhythm during the time it is worn. It can be used in the diagnosis of arrhythmias. (Read about "EKG - Electrocardiogram" "Arrhythmia")
This is an imaging technique involving injection of a contrast dye into a blood vessel and using magnetic resonance techniques to create an image of the flowing blood through the vessel; it can be used in the diagnosis of heart disorders, stroke, blood vessel disorders and to detect stenosis of the brain arteries inside the skull. (Read about "MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging" "Coronary Heart Disease" and "Stroke")
This is a type of imaging involving the use of magnetic fields to look inside the body and head, and detect subtle changes in the water content of tissues. MRI can be used in the diagnosis of cancer, as well as to identify damage from a heart attack, diagnose certain congenital heart defects, evaluate blood vessel problems, and aid in the evaluation of stroke damage. (Read about "MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging" "Cancer: What It Is" "Congenital Heart Defects" "Stroke")
Uses multiple detectors to take a 3-D picture of the heart. Before these multiple detector machines, CT scans did not work well on the heart because the heart beats and movement ruins the CT picture.
Nuclear heart scans (also called Radionuclide Imaging or Radionuclide Ventriculography) use radioactive tracers (such as technetium or thallium) to outline heart chambers and major blood vessels leading to and from the heart. A nuclear heart scan shows any damage to your heart muscle. It can be used in the diagnosis of heart disease, valve disorders or heart failure. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease" "The Heart & Its Valves" "Congestive Heart Failure" "Cardiomyopathy")
This is a device used to measure blood pressure. By using a special cuff wrapped around your arm, the sounds of your blood rushing through an artery can be heard through a stethoscope. Two readings are given - one when your heart is contracting, one when it's at rest. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure")
A stress test is used to record the heartbeat during exercise. This helps a doctor determine how well your heart can handle work. This test can be used to diagnose and monitor a number of heart problems. (Read about "Stress Test" "The Heart & Cardiovascular System")
A thallium stress test (or nuclear stress test) shows the working of the heart muscle. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and a camera shows how well blood flows to the heart muscle. It's usually done in conjunction with an exercise stress test on a treadmill or bicycle. (Read about "Stress Test")
A tilt table test can be used to diagnose patients with unexplained fainting spells called syncope. (Read about "Syncope/Fainting") During the test, heart rate, blood pressure or other measurements can be made while the patient lies on a table which is tilted so he or she can be monitored in different positions from lying down to standing upright.
A ventriculogram can help evaluate the main pumping chamber of your heart. During a ventriculogram, a dye is injected to make an image of the inside of the heart show up on x-ray, and be recorded.
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