Aging & Health A to Z
Diagnosis & Tests
When you see your doctor about an arrhythmia, he or she will likely listen to your heart with a stethoscope, review your medications (including over-the-counter drugs and supplements), and may order blood and other tests, such as these:
A large machine containing a strong magnet and radio waves creates a picture of the inside of your heart. This test can provide more detailed information about how your heart valves and other parts of your heart are working.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and ECG Stress Test
This simple, painless test measures the electrical activity of your heart using electrodes (wires) placed on the chest and other parts of your body. You might have the test lying down, or while you’re exercising on a treadmill or bicycle to monitor how your heart responds to increasing levels of physical activity. If you can’t exercise, your health care professional might give you a drug that makes your heart pump harder.
Echocardiogram (or Echo)
This is the most common test for evaluating heart function and for diagnosing heart valve problems as well as other heart conditions. It uses sound waves (ultrasound) to create an image of the inside of your heart while it’s beating. This test is often done while you’re exercising, on a treadmill or exercise bicycle to see how your heart responds to increased physical activity.
To test your heart activity over a period of time, your cardiac specialist might give you a portable monitor to use at home. While you wear the monitor on your shoulder (much like a shoulder bag), you can perform all your normal activities, except for showering. You usually wear the monitor for a day or two and then return it to your healthcare professional’s office for analysis.
Similar to a Holter monitor, an event monitor is used if you have occasional symptoms of irregular heartbeats or dizziness. With most event monitors, you push a button to start the monitor when you feel symptoms, such as fluttering in your chest or lightheadedness. Other event monitors record your heart activity automatically when they pick up irregular heartbeats. You’ll use the event monitor for several weeks, or until it records enough irregular heartbeats for your healthcare professional to make a diagnosis.
Tilt Table Test
Your healthcare professional may order this test if you have fainting spells. Your heart rate and blood pressure are monitored first while you are lying flat on a special table, and then as the table is tilted upwards. This test shows whether a change in body position affects the heart rate and blood pressure.
If your arrhythmia doesn’t respond to standard treatment, or if your cardiologist needs more information to diagnose your problem, he or she may perform this advanced test to monitor your heart’s electrical activity. The cardiologist will thread thin wires embedded with tiny electrodes through a vein in your arm or leg into your heart; sometimes the cardiologist uses the electrodes to stimulate your heart muscle.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012