If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, fainting spells, or if you have risk factors for heart disease, your doctor may order certain diagnostic imaging tests to rule out cardiovascular conditions.
While a physical examination can help your doctor diagnose the cause of your symptoms, sophisticated pieces of medical equipment are often relied upon to make an accurate diagnosis. Here are three types of medical equipment that will help your doctor diagnose an underlying heart problem and what you can do to manage your condition once it is diagnosed.
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart and surrounding structures. It allows your cardiologist to visualize your heart, chambers, valves, pumping action, and arteries, and is especially sensitive to picking up signs of excessive fluid around your heart known as a pericardial effusion.
An echocardiogram machine use sound waves to capture real-time images of your heart instead of ionizing radiation that traditional x-rays use. It is considered a very safe examination and requires no preparation prior to testing.
If you take certain heart drugs such as beta blockers, your doctor may recommend that you not take them on the morning of your test. Taking heart medications may skew your echocardiogram results. If your "echo" uncovers evidence of congestive heart failure, your physician may recommend that you take a diuretic, or "water pill" to help remove excess fluid from your soft tissues and from around your heart.
CT Artery Scanner
An arterial CT scanner is a machine that uses low dose radiation to detect calcium in your coronary arteries. If your calcium score is high, your cardiologist may decide to prescribe medication to lower your cholesterol.
Arterial calcium is thought to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and while existing arterial calcium is difficult to reverse, treatment may help prevent further calcium from building up in your arteries. Unlike an echocardiogram machine, the CT arterial scanner uses ionizing radiation to take pictures of your arteries, however, the dose is considered low and relatively safe.
If you experience angina, or chest pain, your physician may order a cardiac stress test. During a stress test, you walk on a treadmill machine at various inclines and speeds, while your doctor or nurse monitors your heart function and blood pressure.
This test will help determine if you have any blockages in your arteries or if you have an abnormal heart rhythm, known as a cardiac arrhythmia. Like with an echocardiogram, your health care provider may recommend that you refrain from taking your heart medications on the day of your test to avoid a false negative or false positive result.
During a cardiac stress test, if you begin to feel short of breath, faintness, chest pain, or dizziness, tell the doctor or nurse immediately so that the test can be stopped. If the stress test reveals evidence of a blockage or abnormal heart beat, your cardiologist may recommend cholesterol lowering medication, blood pressure drugs, weight loss, exercise, or anti-arrhythmic drugs. These treatment options may help reverse existing cardiac and arterial damage as well as help prevent further progression of heart disease.
If you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting episodes, frequent dizziness, or weakness on one or both sides, seek immediate medical treatment. When cardiac problems are recognized early with the help of diagnostic medical equipment and treated appropriately, you are much less likely to experience long-term complications from a heart attack, stroke, or even a life-threatening blood clot.
Early intervention will help ensure that you enjoy a symptom-free life for as long as possible. With the advent of sophisticated medical equipment, people are being diagnosed earlier so that appropriate treatment can be implemented sooner.