There are numerous tests that can now be done to diagnose your heart condition effectively. Most of these tests are non-invasive so there is no need for surgery or the removal of any bodily tissues.
This is a recording of the electrical activity of the heart and is used to diagnose heart rhythm problems. It can show if you have had a heart attack or if your heart is strained or enlarged. Several small sticky tabs are attached to your arms, legs and chest which are connected to a recording machine. The test takes about five minutes and is not painful or uncomfortable.
Similar to pregnancy, echocardiography is an ultrasound but of the heart. A probe is placed on your chest and ultrasound waves are used to investigate and display the action of the heart as it beats on a screen. It is usually used on people who doctors may suspect of having leaky or stiff valves or patients who have suffered a heart attack. The test can take up to an hour but is not painful.
Electrocardiograms (ECGs) are used to monitor how the heart reacts to exercise, so you will usually be asked to walk/run on a treadmill. If you have chest pain symptoms, the test helps to show if these are caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart and if so, how serious it is. It is also used after heart surgery to assess what level of exercise should take place as part of your rehabilitation. The test usually takes about 15 minutes.
This is where the heart rate is monitored over several hours, some devices record for 24, 48 or 72 hours, some are worn all the time and “activated” when a patient has an occurrence of a symptom. A portable ECG machine records the signals from the heart while you are at home. The recording device is either attached to a belt or a strap which goes across the chest. You might also be asked to fill out a diary of events such as exercise, sleep and symptoms. The recording can then be analysed by a Cardiac Physiologist.
Myocardial Perfusion Scan
A Myocardial Perfusion Scan is used to evaluate how strong the blood supply to your heart muscle is. Under stress the heart may not receive enough oxygen at times and this may result in chest pain called angina or breathlessness. The scan uses a small amount of radioactive substance (thallium or technician) which, along with gentle exercise (or medicine used to simulate exercise) can be used to produce pictures of your heart. When the radionucliotide is injected into the blood stream it travels to the heart muscle through the coronary arteries. The process can be visualised by a special camera.
This is an x-ray of the arteries, used to diagnose blockages or other abnormalities of the blood vessels. A thin tube called a catheter is inserted through a small nick in the skin into an artery. The cardiologist guides the catheter into the artery to be studied whilst watching on an x-ray monitor. A dye is then injected through the catheter while x-rays are taken to view the blood vessels. The test takes between 20 minutes to an hour and you should not eat or drink before hand.
It is possible to tell if you have had a heart attack by examining the enzymes and proteins in your blood through a series of samples. An analysis of protein in your blood also helps to show the extent of damage to the heart muscle.
Blood tests are also performed so your doctor can assess particular chemical levels in the blood to check that other problems are not causing your symptoms, and also to make sure you are well enough to undergo certain tests.
A tilt test is performed to assess symptoms of dizziness, blackout, blood pressure response and pacemaker function. During the test you will be asked to lie on a table where you will be connected to an ECG machine and blood pressure monitor. The table will then be tilted, head up, for a period of time. Your heart rate and blood pressure will be constantly monitored throughout.
You will also be asked to stand throughout the test but you will be supported by the table and will not be expected to stand for longer than 45 minutes. You will be allowed to rest after the test before you go home. You will usually be in the department for around one and a half hours and it is advisable to bring a friend as you cannot drive immediately after the test.