Cardiovascular disease accounts for one of every four deaths in South Carolina in an average year. Most of the time, it doesn’t have to be fatal. If physicians can diagnose it in its earliest stages, patients can take appropriate steps to manage it and improve their health outcomes. That’s where non-invasive testing comes in.
Non-invasive cardiovascular tests are commonly used diagnostic tools designed to detect heart disease as in its earliest stages. In this context, non-invasive simply means that the tests do not require entering the patient’s body using surgical procedures. Instead, cardiologists use advanced technological equipment to look for symptoms and monitor stages from outside the patient’s body.
Non-invasive cardiology tests are used to diagnose patients’ heart-related disorders, including cardiovascular disease. They can also help with disease staging and determining treatment plans. Patients with heart disease may need to undergo testing to determine appropriate levels of exercise, as well.
The types of tests available vary by the cardiologist. It’s best to work with a cardiology team that has access to all the equipment required to perform comprehensive evaluations. They include:
There are several types of diagnostic imaging used to evaluate a patient for cardiovascular disease. They include:
Electrocardiography (EKG) records the electrical activity of a patient’s heart. They monitor things like the timing and duration of each heartbeat to keep track of changes in heart rhythm and help predict heart attacks.
Cardiologists can also perform ambulatory electrocardiography and Holter monitoring, more commonly known as a stress EKG test. This type of test records abnormal electrical activity occurring in patients’ hearts while they perform normal daily activities. It’s used primarily in staging and can help doctors determine the best treatments for their patients.
During this type of test, the patient will be monitored with electrodes attached to his or her skin that record heart function. ECSTs are used to help diagnose CAD and angina. During the test, the patient will be asked to walk in place on a treadmill. While he or she does this, the electrodes will monitor:
The patient will also communicate his or her level of fatigue to the doctor. This helps to determine appropriate levels of exercise.
In some cases, echo imaging can be used in conjunction with exercise stress tests. A doctor can inject thallium into the patient’s bloodstream then take pictures using a specialized gamma camera. This process is often known as a pharmacological stress test.
The second form of stress echo can also be used for patients who cannot exercise. It’s called a dobutamine stress test. Dobutamine is a drug that can be injected into a patient’s veins to make his or her heart beat faster, mimicking the effects of exercise.
Venous insufficiency is a condition related to cardiovascular health, but it affects the legs. It occurs when the valves or venous walls in a patient’s leg veins aren’t working well enough to transport blood to and from the heart. Venous insufficiency workups are often recommended for cardiac patients.
Diagnostic tests for venous insufficiency include venous duplex ultrasound examinations, which look for obstructions in the veins or valvular incompetence. Doctors may also request venograms, including CT venograms and magnetic resonance venograms. In some cases, venous B-scans may also be recommended.
30-day event monitoring involves outfitting the patient with a Holter monitor for home use. This portable, battery-operated device records the ECG data continuously for up to 30 days using two small adhesive electrodes attached to the patient’s chest. The purpose of this month-long test is to evaluate the patient’s heart rhythm while cardiac symptoms are occurring. The monitor will be activated whenever patients experience symptoms like:
The information will be transmitted directly to the patient’s cardiology team. These specialists will use the data to help pinpoint the cause of cardiac symptoms that do not show up on traditional stress tests.
Non-invasive cardiac tests allow cardiologists to diagnose patients’ heart conditions when they are in their earliest stages. During the early stages of cardiovascular disease, the most common treatment plan involves making simple lifestyle changes and, if necessary, administering medications.
Lifestyle changes typically include switching to a low-fat, low-sodium diet, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and getting more exercise. Patients with the earliest stages of cardiovascular disease can benefit from at least 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise. Stress tests like those described above can help doctors determine appropriate exercise levels.
Unlike invasive tests, the procedures described above do not require any form of surgery. They can be performed outpatient and do not pose the same risks associated with surgical procedures. While there are some risks associated with stress tests, patients will be monitored closely to ensure that they are not overexerting themselves.
The most common invasive cardiology test is cardiac catheterization. This test involves inserting a sheath that contains a long catheter into a vein or artery in the patient’s leg, groin, or arm. From there, the doctor guides the catheter through the patient’s arteries until it reaches his or her heart.
Cardiac catheterization allows doctors to measure the pressure in patients’ heart chambers. It’s often performed when doctors suspect soft tissue abnormalities. It can also be performed in conjunction with a chest X-ray.
Those who suspect they may be at high risk of developing cardiovascular problems should see a specialist. Carolina Cardiology Associates can help. Get in touch with us online or call to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
The experienced physicians at Carolina Cardiology Associates are committed to the health of every patient who walks through our doors. We understand the challenges of cardiovascular disease and will work with you to provide treatment, education, and a plan for the future to help you live your healthiest life.