Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But cardiologists have a wide range of tests available to them to help patients determine their heart health and develop a plan to achieve cardiac wellness.
Here are the tools cardiologists use to test your ticker and help you keep your heart in optimal health.
Electrocardiogram: For this test—also called an ECG or EKG—leads are attached to your chest with adhesive and record your heart’s activity—its rhythm and any skipped beats. An electrocardiogram is often performed while you are walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike, so cardiologists can observe the results while your heart is under stress, allowing doctors to determine if you are actually having a heart attack or if you have heart damage.
Chest X-Ray: This test allows doctors to look at both your heart and your lungs, since these diseases of both can be intertwined. It also shows things like cracked ribs, which can simulate heart disease in pain symptoms.
Nuclear Stress Test: To determine if enough blood is reaching your heart during activity and at rest, a radioactive liquid is injected into your vein. While you exercise, a special camera detects the radiation and produces images of your heart and the blood flow to it.
Echocardiogram: An ultrasound of your chest, this test shows details of your heart’s structure, how the heart muscle is squeezing and if the valves are working properly. Narrowed or leaky valves, blood clots or previous heart attacks can also show up. A transesophageal echocardiogram is performed when a devise is inserted down your throat to look at your heart from behind.
Cardiac Catheterization – In a coronary angiogram, as the test is also known, a tube is threaded into a vein or artery in your arm or leg. Using an X-ray as a guide, the cardiologist then moves the tube through your vessel to your heart, where dye is injected to illuminate abnormalities and check blood flow. The doctor can also use a balloon and stent to open up a blockage during this procedure.
CT Scan: This noninvasive imaging method uses X-ray, or computerized tomography, to look at the coronary arteries and spot blockages.
MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging produces detailed images of the heart and is considered the gold standard for assessing heart function. For this test, a patient lies still on a table inside a tube-like machine that generates a magnetic field.
Holter Monitoring: This test gives cardiologist a look at your heart activity over time, as you typically wear a heart monitor for 24 hours. Some patients wear the monitors for as long as a month, and those with rhythm abnormalities that arise infrequently might have the monitors implanted to record activity.
Shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, sweating and fatigue all can be symptoms of poor heart health. If you have any of these symptoms, don’t wait. Find a cardiologist and schedule an appointment soon.