19 Jun 2022
The heart is a powerful organ in the human body that pumps blood throughout the body. When it works correctly, the heart keeps us alive and well. When it doesn't, heart disease or other problems can occur.
Although many heart issues can be corrected with lifestyle changes and medication, a small percentage of patients need additional treatment. In order to diagnose any underlying heart problems, cardiologists run a battery of tests.
We've put together this guide to help you understand how doctors identify and treat heart issues. It gives a brief overview of common cardiology tests for diagnosing issues with the heart and what to expect if you're facing one of these tests. If you have any questions about the tests described here, please contact your doctor or cardiologist.
Who is a cardiologist?
When you go to your doctor's chamber, there's a good chance you'll get some kind of cardiology test. A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart-related issues and diseases, and sometimes those heart issues are subtle or strange enough that your regular doctor might not be able to figure them out. The tests below are some of the most common ones your cardiologist might order to help diagnose their cause—and they'll give you a full picture of what's going on with your heart.
Top 7 tests to determine the condition of your heart
You probably didn't think much of it when your doctor ordered a heart test. What do they mean? Why are they ordering that one? Heart tests can be confusing and daunting. We're looking at ten common heart tests and what they mean.
1. An EKG : This is probably the most common heart test ordered, especially for older patients. It's basically like a heart-rate monitor for doctors. They can see if you have an irregular heartbeat or if your heart's rhythm is off.
2. An exercise stress test : This test is used to evaluate the state of your cardiovascular health, specifically during exercise. The results from this test can be compared with previous tests done by the same patient or other patients with similar profiles to assess the effectiveness of treatment. The goal of the test is to simulate stressful situations that could potentially put a strain on your cardiovascular system to determine if there are any irregularities in heart function.
You will be asked to perform several exercises, each one at a different level of difficulty. During this process, technicians will monitor your blood pressure and other vital signs in order to ensure that you stay safe during these tests.
At the end of the test, doctors will compare the results with an average patient's results in order to determine if there are any abnormalities. If they find any, they will move forward with the next step, administering another test or making plans for surgery.
3. A nuclear stress test : It is considered more accurate than an exercise stress test because it uses different imaging techniques (such as radionuclide imaging) to watch blood flow through your heart. In addition, a nuclear stress test can be performed more often than an exercise stress test because it does not require strenuous activity on your part. It will likely be performed in a hospital or clinic and may take several hours to complete. Your doctor may also perform a treadmill exercise test to monitor your heart during physical activity. Both tests are painless and noninvasive, but you should expect mild discomfort while lying still for long periods of time while undergoing the stress test.
4. A doppler echocardiogram : This is an ultrasound of the heart that uses sound waves to examine how well the heart is pumping blood. It can be used to detect problems with blood flow through the heart and how quickly blood moves through the valves.
This test includes images and data from an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan that are analyzed by a computer program. The doctor will compare your results with those of healthy people who were of your age and gender. This helps determine if there are differences in your heart that could be harmful or cause problems later on down the line.
5. Tilt test : The tilt test is the most commonly used test to determine the condition of your heart. It involves tilting the patient from a horizontal to a vertical position, approximately 30 degrees at a time until the patient complains of symptoms. The rate at which the patient becomes symptomatic is measured over time.
6. Pharmacologic stress test : If you have been diagnosed with heart disease and are starting treatment, or if you have symptoms of heart disease such as a rapid or irregular heartbeat, you may be eligible to have a pharmacologic stress test performed to evaluate your heart's response to exercise. There are two types of pharmacologic stress tests: the exercise tolerance test (ETT) and the dobutamine stress echocardiogram (DSE). The ETT is optional, but the DSE is not.
7. EP study : Electrophysiology studies are an important diagnostic tool. They help determine the condition of the heart muscle, which can be affected by coronary artery disease, hypertension, and other conditions. The most common type of EP study is called a stress test.
This test involves an IV line in your arm to administer medication that makes your heart beat faster and harder as if you were exercising. Electrodes are placed on your chest to record your heart's electrical activity. This gives doctors a snapshot of how your heart functions under physical stress.
The test is performed while you're at rest and then again after you've exercised on a treadmill or cycle. It can take a maximum of two hours to complete.
How is your heart?
The best way to find out if your heart is in good shape is to have physical exercise. This can be done at a hospital or, on occasion, at a clinic. It's important that the physical exercise be done by a trained medical professional so that they can run tests and look for signs of disease, improper function, and other issues that may affect your heart.