Aging & Health A to Z
Heart Valve Problems
Common Cardiac Tests
Diagnosis & Tests
During a routine physical exam, your healthcare professional might hear a heart murmur, or notice an abnormality in your pulse or circulation which can signal a heart valve problem. If your healthcare professional does hear a murmur, he or she will probably order some tests.
Your healthcare professional will also check for other heart problems, such as coronary artery disease or heart failure, or other illnesses that can occur along with heart valve problems, such as diabetes, liver or kidney problems, or high blood pressure.
Below are some cardiac tests your healthcare professional may have you undergo to diagnose heart valve problems:
Cardiac Catheterization (Angiogram)
The heart specialist threads a tiny tube (catheter) through an artery in your arm or leg into the arteries of your heart. He or she injects a dye into the tube that can be seen on an x-ray as the dye travels through your heart chambers and arteries. This shows the pumping action and circulation of blood through your heart, and any blockages you might have in your coronary arteries. Your heart specialist will tell you if you need to change your diet or medications before or after the test.
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.
A chest x-ray can show whether parts of your heart are enlarged, or if there’s fluid buildup in your lungs. These can be signs of heart failure, a heart valve problem, or thickening of the heart muscle.
Echocardiogram (or “Echo”) and Echo Stress Test
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.
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.
Nuclear Stress Test
If you have symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath, your healthcare professional may order a nuclear stress test. You will receive an injection of radioactive dye and images will be taken of your heart while you are at rest. Afterwards, you may be asked to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle, or you may receive an injection to speed up your heart. Another dose of radioactive dye may be given during the test through a small intravenous (IV) tube, and your blood pressure and heartbeat (ECG) will be monitored during the test. Another set of images will be taken at that time. After resting for a prescribed time you might have another set of images taken. The nuclear stress test shows the specialist who is interpreting your images if there are any damaged areas in your heart. The images may also show whether the arteries that bring blood to your heart muscle are blocked or narrowed, or if your heart is enlarged. It also measures how well your heart is pumping blood (called the ejection fraction).
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012