Diagnostic cardiac procedures start with your doctor taking your medical history. Be prepared to answer lots of questions and undergo a complete physical examination and labwork. In order to correctly diagnose your condition and provide the best of care in cardiac treatments and therapies, your doctor is likely to also order a number of diagnostic tests. Knowing a bit about those tests may help soothe your anxiety.
Treadmill Stress Test - a treadmill stress test helps your doctor understand your minimum and maximum exercise or activity tolerance. The test is used to help diagnose the severity of your heart disorders or coronary artery disease. During the test, electrodes or leads are attached to your chest and an ECG (electrocardiograph) machine. As you walk on the treadmill, your doctor can view the test strips from the ECG machine to understand how your heart is working, or where it may be weakened or damaged. As the test progresses, pace, incline and intensity is gradually increased. The ECG then monitors heart rate and blood pressure. If you experience any chest pain, shortness of breath, or discomfort, the test will be stopped.
Holter monitors - These small devices are also called continuous ambulatory electrocardiography devices. In a nutshell, the Holter monitor is a portable EKG (electrocardiogram) machine over a 24-hour period. The monitor is worn on your belt or attached to your body with shoulder straps. Electrode leads placed on your chest attach to the monitor device unit, enabling your doctor to receive readouts from another location. This device is used to detect abnormal heart rhythm or inadequate blood flow.
Electrocardiography - This diagnostic test is also called an ECG. A machine records electrical waves and currents from your heart, which are then interpreted by your doctor. An ECG can identify a fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat. The test itself takes less than 5 minutes. To perform the test, small, round patches with sensors attached are placed on your chest, legs, or arms. These sensors can measure strength and direction of electrical currents produced by your heart. These patches are also connected to wires that attach to a machine that produces a visible recording of your heart activity.
CT scans - This is a common diagnostic test known as computed tomography. A CT scan can identify defective heart structure and abnormalities in blood vessels. The scan is similar to an x-ray, but can take images from multiple angles. The bed you lay on moves forward during series of scans. The CT scan displays varying density in cardiac and blood vessel tissues. Several types of CT scans are used today that offer 3-dimensional images of the heart and blood vessels.
Computed tomography angiography - this imaging diagnostic test is also known as a CTA. It's similar to a CT scan, but can create 3-dimensional images of all arteries except coronary arteries. This test is used to diagnose narrowing of the arteries, mainly those leading to the lungs and kidneys. Injections of radiopaque dyes or contrast agents into a vein enable the doctor to watch blood flow.
Fluoroscopy - This procedure allows your doctor to observe the function of your heart in real time. It's viewed through a computer and monitor screen. Fluoroscopy is an older yet still effective procedure that is used during cardiac catheterization and electrophysiologic testing procedures.
Echocardiography - This diagnostic procedure is a form of ultrasound that uses high-frequency ultrasound waves. These waves literally bounce off your internal organs and structures and create moving images observed on computer or monitor screens. An echocardiography procedure is noninvasive and painless. Often used to identify heart abnormalities, defective heart valves and function, enlargement of the heart or heart walls, and a condition known as pericardial effusion, the test is effective and invaluable to cardiac care personnel. Today, there are two major types of ultrasonography widely used:
• M-mode or 2-dimensional Doppler - this method uses a single beam of ultrasound to produce 2-dimensional images in what can be termed as slices. These sliced images are stacked together to create 3-dimensional images.
• Color Doppler - This method is capable of displaying your heart's blood flow rate and functionality in different colors. Through this method, your doctor can tell if your heart valves are working properly, or if blood is flowing through the heart correctly.
MRI - Also known as magnetic resonance imaging, this diagnostic test utilizes radio waves emitted by a magnetic field to produce detailed images of your body or specific organs, including the heart. As you lie inside an electromagnetic chamber, radio waves are pulsed into the machine. These radio waves emit signals that produce 2- and 3-dimensional images of your organs.
Cardiac Catheterization/Coronary Angiography
Catheterization describes the process of inserting a very thin catheter or tube through a small incision made into an artery or vein, most commonly in the groin. You will receive a local anesthetic to numb the area prior to this insertion. The catheter is threaded through major blood vessels into the heart. Catheters can be used to inject dyes that can be seen on x-rays in a process called angiography.
Coronary Angiography - This procedure is often performed along with catheterization. During a coronary angiography procedure, the catheter is inserted and a radiopaque dye is injected into your blood stream. The dye makes its way to your coronary arteries. Your doctor can observe your arterial function on a video screen.
Facilities around the globe such as the internationally recognized Manipal Hospital in Bangalore, India offer the latest technologies and diagnostics for cardiac testing and diagnostics in the world.
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