Heart Disease Living Diagnosis

If you have heart disease symptoms, your doctor will examine you, order tests and ask you numerous questions before coming up with a heart disease diagnosis.

Diagnosing heart disease includes an analysis of your family history, your medical history, your heart disease symptoms and your test results. Often a complete heart disease diagnosis requires readings from an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram or a CT scan.

If you’re undergoing heart disease treatment or discussing your heart disease symptoms with a doctor, understanding these diagnostic techniques and how they work may be helpful to you.

Diagnosing Heart Disease with an Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce a moving image of the heart with more detail than an X-ray. This non-invasive test is used to evaluate the function of the heart’s valves and chambers.

For this test, you lie on your back. A device called a transducer is placed against your ribs near your sternum and transmits high frequency sound waves toward your heart. The transducer converts echoes of the sound waves into electrical impulses, which an echocardiography machine then converts into a moving picture of the heart.

No known risks are associated with this test. The resulting image can be studied for any unusual functions occurring during the contraction of the chambers or the opening and closing of the heart valves.

Diagnosing Heart Disease with an Electrocardiogram

An electrocardiogram, also called an ECG or EKG, is another painless, non-invasive test that your doctor may recommend based on an assessment of your heart disease symptoms.

During this test, you usually lie down while small patches called electrodes are attached to your arms, legs or chest. The electrodes record the electrical impulses generated by your heart as each chamber goes through a cycle of contraction and relaxation. You should lie as still and relaxed as possible, since any movement can change the results. However, the test is sometimes used while the patient is exercising or with heart stimulating medication, in which case it’s called a stress test.

Normal ECG results show a steady heart rhythm and a heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Any variation or abnormal rhythm determines the course of your heart disease treatment.

Diagnosing Heart Disease with a CT Scan

During a computed tomography scan, or CT scan, an X-ray machine is used to take images of your heart from multiple directions. All of these images are then overlaid to provide a clear three-dimensional picture.

Because it involves radiation, a CT scan is not entirely risk free, but the risks are very low and the test has no invasive or painful elements. Doctors sometimes recommend this test because it provides a clear picture of calcium and other accumulated residue on the walls of the coronary arteries.

With CT scan images in hand, a doctor can provide an accurate heart disease diagnosis and determine a heart disease treatment plan.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2010). Tests to diagnose heart disease. Retrieved November 12, 2010, from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4739

Medline Plus. (2010). Echocardiogram. Retrieved November 12, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003869.htm

Medline Plus. (2010). Electrocardiogram. Retrieved November 12, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003868.htm

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2010). What is cardiac CT? Retrieved November 12, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/ct/ct_whatis.html

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2010). What is an electrocardiogram? Retrieved November 12, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/ekg/ekg_what.html