At Chicago Cardiology, we employ a wide range of noninvasive cardiac testing to check for disease, damage or abnormalities in the heart. Read below to learn more about the cardiac tests that we provide.
An echocardiogram is a painless test that allows specialists to see how the heart is functioning, in order to identify any irregularities that may require further examination. The echocardiogram checks to see that the muscles, chambers and valves are functioning properly and that the heart is pumping blood around the body.
During an echocardiogram, the physician places electrodes on the patient’s chest to monitor the heart’s movements. The test detects sound waves, which it then uses to produce a moving image of the heart. The doctor examines the image for any irregular movements.
By allowing specialists to “look” directly at how the heart is functioning, an echocardiogram allows them to identify any irregularities that may require further examination. To perform the test, electrodes which monitor the heart’s movements are attached to the patient’s chest. Patients do not need to follow any special preparations prior to the test.
An electrocardiogram (or ECG) is a test that allows doctors to assess the heart’s condition through electronic signals transmitted by the heartbeat. ECGs are also used to monitor patients before and after heart surgery.
During the procedure, the physician attaches electrode patches to the legs, arms and chest in order to observe the heart’s rhythms. Physicians can then identify any unusual patterns that may suggest problems such as blocked arteries or valves, heart attacks, defects or irregular heartbeat.
Event & Holter Monitors
Event and Holter monitors are small heart-monitoring devices worn by the patient during a slightly longer period of time. They are used to diagnose arrhythmias, which are irregular rhythms of the heartbeat. The monitors work by detecting electronic signals sent by the heart and recording the heart’s electrical activity.
A Holter monitor assesses the heart’s patterns the entire time it is worn. An event monitor assesses patterns during specific periods—such as while sleeping or involved in physical activity.
Because these tests are conducted over a longer period of time, these tests can identify irregularities that may be missed by the electrocardiogram test. Event and Holter monitors can also check that sufficient blood is flowing to and from the heart.
Exercise & Stress Tests
Exercise and stress tests assess the heart during periods of physical activity and are typically used for diagnosing coronary disease or abnormal rhythms. However, if you have already been diagnosed with a condition, they may also be used for determining an appropriate course of treatment.
Some heart problems may only become apparent when the heart is beating faster under pressure, such as during times of physical exertion. Exercise and stress test can identify such problems.
To conduct the test, patients walk on a treadmill as the doctor studies the patient’s breathing, heartbeat and blood pressure. The treadmill gradually speeds up until the patient reaches a specified heart rate or is unable to continue. If patients are unable to exercise, they will be given medication that safely replicates the effects of physical activity.
Nuclear Stress Test
Nuclear stress tests involve taking images of the heart at rest and after exercise to monitor blood flow and determine how stress affects your heart. A doctor examines the images to assess blood flow and see how much pressure can be applied to the heart before it begins to develop abnormal patterns. Nuclear stress tests are commonly used when other tests have proven inconclusive in diagnosing problems.
During the first part of the nuclear stress test, the patient lies on a table while the doctor uses an IV to apply a tracer. The tracer circulates for one hour; then, “resting” images of the heart are taken. The second part of the test involves the patient using a treadmill (or, if unable to exercise, having taken medication to replicate the effects of physical activity). The nuclear technologist will then take additional images of the heart while it is under pressure.
Peripheral Arterial Disease Tests
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) tests can be performed using a number of different machines and techniques, including ultrasound, index testing and pulse and pressure recording. A PAD test is performed to diagnose peripheral artery disease, a common condition caused by insufficient blood reaching different parts of the body usually due to the build-up of plaque in the blood vessels.
Physical exam. During this examination the doctor may check your legs or feet for weak or absent pulses, which are signs of PAD. Your doctor may also listen for whooshing sounds (bruits) in your leg arteries with a stethoscope. He or she may also examine the blood pressure of the affected limb.
Ultrasound. Your doctor may perform a Doppler ultrasound test, a special ultrasound imaging technique, to examine blood flow and look for blocked blood vessels in the limbs. During this test, a handheld device is passed back and forth over the affected area. A computer connected to the device uses the sound waves to create an image of blood flow in the arteries.
Ankle-brachial index (ABI). This test involves using a blood pressure cuff and ultrasound device to compare the blood pressure in your arms to the blood pressure in your legs. If your ankle pressure is lower than your arm blood pressure, this result indicates a narrowing or blockage in the leg arteries, as is seen with PAD.
Noninvasive Venous Testing
Noninvasive venous testing utilizes imaging technology and ultrasound to assess blood flow and the general condition of the veins. It also checks for symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition in which blood clots form in the veins.
Noninvasive venous testing is also used to check for chronic venous insufficiency, which causes varicose veins and can be very painful if not diagnosed and treated early. The type of testing depends on the patient’s symptoms and medical history, with a series of tests designed for different circumstances.
Noninvasive Arterial Testing
Noninvasive arterial testing involves using imaging technologies to assess blood flow in the arteries and identify any irregular blockages or other problems. This form of testing is usually prescribed when a doctor suspects that a patient might have an arterial condition with the potential to cause aneurysm, strokes, hypertension or kidney failure. If any conditions are present, noninvasive arterial testing can also determine how severe the condition is.
Schedule an initial consultation with one of our physicians to find out which cardiac test is right for your heart condition.