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Heart Tests That Could Save Your Life

heart stress testThis is only a test. But if could be one of the most important tests you’ll ever take. If one of your heart’s many parts stops working properly—like the electrical system that makes it beat, the arteries that keep it nourished or the valves that help it pump blood—your doctor can use a variety of test to determine the problem.

These test use different types of technology to measure your heart’s activity or “see” inside your body to watch it as it works.

If you show signs of heart problems—such as chest pain, shortness of breath or lightheadedness—your doctor may recommend one or more of these common tests.

Electrocardiogram

Abbreviated ECH or EKG, this test analyzes the electrical impulses that pass through your heart to make it beat properly. It results in a squiggly line on graph paper.

What is it done?

An electrocardiogram shows if you have an abnormality in your heartbeat (called arrhythmia) and can also show if you’ve had a heart attack.

How is it done?

With this painless procedure, the doctor, nurse or physician’s assistant places sticky patches on your chest, arms and legs that are connected by wires to a machine that reads your heart’s electrical activity. Your doctor then interprets the readout to learn how your heart is working.

Echocardiogram

Sounds waves create moving pictures of your heart on a monitor.

Why is it done?

An “echo” is probably the best method for looking into your heart valves. In addition to showing how well your heart valves are working, the test shows the size of your heart chambers and their level of performance. An echo is usually ordered to assess how well your heart is pumping blood. If your doctor hears a murmur in your heartbeat through a stethoscope, this test can identify its cause. Your doctor might also order an echo if you report symptoms such as shortness of breath or difficulty exercising.

How is it done?

A technician puts a gel on your chest, then moves a device called a transducer (like the kind used on pregnant women to create picture of their unborn babies) over the area. The test is harmless and doesn’t hurt.

Stress Test

An EKG or echocardiogram that checks your heart at rest and while it’s beating heavily.

Why is it done?

Your heart may show signs that it’s not working properly when you’re under exertion, but symptoms may disappear while you’re at rest. A stress test gives your doctor an added level of information about your heart’s health.

How is it done?

A two-step procedure, the stress test begins with an EKG or echo while your heart is at rest. Then, you spend about 10 minutes walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike to get it pumping faster. When you’re at about 85 percent of you maximum heart rate, the EKG is repeated, allowing your doctor to see how the heart is functioning when it’s pumping fast and furiously compared with at rest.

If arthritis or other conditions make you unable to exercise, the doctor can give you a medication that speeds up your heartbeat without exertion. People with possible heart ailments are often concerned that putting stress on their hearts will cause a heart attack or other problems, but complications from stress tests are rare.

Cardiac Catheterization

Allows your doctor to diagnose blockages in the arteries feeding your heart.

Why is it done?

Cardiac catheterization is the best test available to detect hardening of the arteries in your heart, which can cause a heart attack.

How is it done?

A more complex procedure than the others, cardiac cath involves the insertion of a thin catheter into one of your blood vessels—often an artery in your groin—until the tip is hear your heart. While a machine takes “movies” of your heart using X-rays, the doctor injects a special fluid through the catheter that stands out on the x-ray. This reveals blockages in the arteries leading to your heart.

The test lasts about 45 minutes. Your doctor will give you medicine beforehand to sedate you and numb the spot where the tube is inserted. You will probably be asked to refrain from eating the night before the test and will have to lie flat for a few hours afterward.

Coronary Calcium Scan

Creates a picture of your coronary arteries, which can show deposits of calcium in their walls.

Why is it done?

If you have factors that increase your risk of heart disease, such as diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure, or a family history of heart diseases, this can be a good way to determine your level of risk. Calcium is an ingredient in plaque, and this scan provided evidence that you have plaque buildups in your arteries. However, insurance companies generally don’t cover this test, so most people pay for it out of pocket.

How is it done?

You lie on a table with electrodes placed on your chest to measure your heartbeat, and the table moves through a CT scanner, a machine that uses X-rays to make 3-D images of your heart. Quick and painless, it simply requires that you hold your breath for a few seconds at a time.

Categories: Heart Beats

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