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When it comes to a patient's heart condition, there are several diagnostic tools that a doctor can use to help determine what is going on with that patient. Different scans show different aspects of the heart's structure and how it is working or if the patient needs intervention.
Electron Beam Computed Tomography
This test can determine early on if a patient has heart disease or is at risk for a heart attack, even before the patient may feel any symptoms. This test is usually done in radiology, where they use an electron ray to show pictures of the actual coronary arteries. Through this procedure, they can see if there is actual plaque hardening in the arteries, and it also provides a very clear picture. The test is usually repeated for the patient after one year or more.
Nuclear Heart Scans
Nuclear heart scans prove especially helpful for diagnostic purposes. For example, the doctor may use one particular scan called Myocardial Perfusion to look at the heart's muscle and see if it is working properly or receiving the right amount of blood. If it is not, this could be evidence of occlusion somewhere in the artery.
Another type of nuclear scan that can be done is done with the use of a treadmill; it is called a nuclear stress test. A substance called a radionuclide is injected into the bloodstream, where it travels to the heart, and the doctor can see how the heart is working under the stressful conditions of exercise and if it has had previous injury. The second part of the test is done while the patient is resting. An EKG is hooked up to the patient the entire time, since this can also provide important information.
An echocardiogram is essentially an ultrasound of the heart. It examines specifically the left ventricle of the heart and also checks for certain abnormalities of the heart's structure and even the valves. One part of an echocardiogram can be done just by using the ultrasound probe on the patient's chest; it is non-invasive. There is another type of echo, though, that is called a transesophageal echo, in which the doctor actually takes the ultrasound probe down through the patient's mouth into the esophagus. Here, the doctor can see the back of the heart and examine it thoroughly. This test is especially useful for patients who are overweight or have very round chests.
This test uses a catheter that the doctor usually inserts into the groin and then follows the blood vessel up into the heart. This test enables him to measure fluid pressures in the chambers of the heart and collect blood samples to analyze the oxygen and CO2 content."
Another aspect of cardiac catheterization is that the doctor can instill a dye into the area, which allows him to see any blockages that may have occurred or are in the process. Then depending on the type of occlusion, the doctor may place a stent or recommend the patient for cardiac bypass surgery.
This test also uses a dye, and it checks mainly for birth defects. It is one test the doctors can use if all other tests have failed to show what is going on with the patient. The dye is injected, and then several pictures are taken as the dye passes through specific areas of the heart and blood vessels. It allows the doctor to see how quickly the dye passes through and also the structural details of the heart.