Many times, cardiac and vascular symptoms are misdiagnosed, or thought to point to other health conditions. When this happens, the disease progresses, putting patients at risk. It is critical to diagnose cardiac and vascular disease accurately to lead to the most effective and swiftest treatment.
Diagnostic tests like the following help your doctor identify any condition you may have and determine the best treatment plan and course of action for your particular situation:
In this test, dye is injected into the arteries while X-rays are taken. The dye highlights the arteries, allowing the area of blockage to be accurately pinpointed.
Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive diagnostic and treatment option that involves passing a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) through the vessels supplying blood to the heart. Interventional cardiologists use this procedure to tell how well your heart is functioning, and to diagnose any possible cardiac disease. With catheterization, MedStar Health cardiologists can:
- Determine the pressure and blood flow in the heart's chambers
- Collect blood samples from the heart
- Examine the valves and arteries of the heart
- Identify heart abnormalities
The procedure is performed in a catheterization laboratory (also called a cath lab).
MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute has one of the most advanced imaging programs in the region, including state-of-the-art equipment and expert staff to interpret these complex tests. We are one of the busiest imaging labs in the country—in 2012, we performed close to 25,000 cath lab procedures. Many of our cardiac imaging experts are internationally known for their research and contributions to the field of cardiac imaging.
MedStar Health hospitals offer advanced imaging technologies, including:
- Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) uses fast-traveling light waves instead of sound waves to produce detailed pictures of your organs.
- Fractional Flow Reserve (FFR) uses a thin wire to measure the blood pressure and blood flow through particular areas in your coronary arteries. The wire helps doctors locate blockages even in the tightest areas in your arteries.
- Intravascular Ultrasound (IVUS) lets your doctor thread a tiny ultrasound camera into the coronary arteries. This allows doctors to see the inside of blood vessels and arteries.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
A CT scan is a non-surgical procedure that provides physicians with detailed three-dimensional views of the heart and blood vessels. For patients, the experience is similar to having an X-ray; however, for physicians, this procedure provides detailed information about the inner workings of the heart and can be used in diagnosing abdominal and thoracic aneurismal disease.
Coronary Calcium Scanning
This test provides a measurement of arterial buildups (atherosclerosis) in the arteries of the heart.
Calcium scoring is a safe and simple test that takes only 15 minutes to complete and uses only a small amount of radiation (similar to the amount in two or three mammogram tests). Your doctor will receive a detailed report, including your calcium score and a comparison of your score to normal values, and will discuss the results with you.
A duplex scan is an ultrasound study used to assess blockages, narrowing, or other abnormalities in the abdominal vessels, the veins and arteries of the legs and arms, and the carotid arteries of the neck.
Electrocardiogram (ECG) records the electrical activity of the heart. The test measures damage to your heart, determines if your heart is beating normally, and checks the size and position of your heart chambers. It is useful in determining whether someone has heart disease. An ECG can be done as part of a routine health examination, or your doctor may order it if you exhibit symptoms of heart problem, such as chest pain or breathing problems.
An electrophysiology study, or EPS, is a diagnostic procedure to look more closely at the electrical function of your heart. It is the most accurate and reliable method of evaluating your heart rhythms and will help your physician determine the treatment option that is most appropriate for you.
Certain conditions can cause the electrical system to make the heart beat too slowly, too fast or in an uncoordinated manner. These irregular patterns are called arrhythmias and they can occur in any of the four chambers of the heart. An electrophysiology study will help your physician determine the best treatment for you by showing where the arrhythmias are occurring.
There are certain conditions that are known to run in families. Genetic counselors are available to explain genetic testing for your family. By identifying an inherited genetic trait, individuals can take preventative steps to protect their heart health.
At MedStar, our team generally performs heart biopsies to ensure your body is not rejecting a newly transplanted heart. We also perform a heart biopsy if we suspect you may have cardiac carcinoma (cancer) or signs of other heart conditions, such as cardiomyopathy or myocarditis.
During a heart biopsy, your physician performs a cardiac catheterization to access the heart muscle and remove three tissue samples to be sent to a lab for analysis.
Heart Scan Screenings
Each year, more than 500,000 Americans have a fatal heart attack and almost 300,000 of them have no prior warning. The good news is that 85 percent of heart disease can be halted or prevented if your risk is identified early enough. Even if you have no symptoms of heart disease, you should consider a heart scan if you are a man over age 40, or a woman over age 45, and:
- Have a family history of heart disease
- Have high cholesterol
- Have high blood pressure
- Are overweight
- Are physically inactive
- Are a smoker
- Have a high level of stress
A heart scan uses an ultrafast spiral computed tomography (CT) scanner to detect the presence of calcified (hard) plaque in your coronary arteries. When calcified plaque builds up in your arteries, they narrow, reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. This is known as coronary artery disease or hardening of the arteries. When a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, a heart attack occurs. Knowing the amount of calcified plaque in your arteries will help you make the right decisions about your health care.
Event and Holter monitors are worn for a period of several months or 24-72 hours, respectively. They measure and record the heart's rhythms and send a these signals by phone so the results can be interpreted.
Intravascular Ultrasound (IVUS)
A small catheter with an ultrasound transducer at the tip is inserted into a vessel to get a scan from inside the vessel.
Sometimes, a patient's arrhythmia may not show up while the ECG is being recorded. Your physician may suggest loop recording. A small recordable device is placed underneath the skin close to the heart and records the heart's rhythms during a period of time. The test results are sent to the cardiologist so he or she can analyze the patterns for cardiac arrhythmias.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (Cardiovascular MRI)
A Cardiovascular MRI is a sophisticated technique for the assessment of cardiac and vascular disease. This technique allows physicians to visualize cardiac and vascular structure and function and aid understanding of complex valve disease.
Nuclear Cardiology uses nuclear medicine technology to study the heart. By using a tiny amount of radioactive material (radioactive tracer), pictures of the heart are taken with a special camera that shows both blood flow to the heart muscle and pumping function of the heart.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan
PET imaging is a very advanced, non-invasive test that allows your cardiologist gain more information about the function of the heart.
Stress testing includes a variety of diagnostic exercise tests to evaluate patients for coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and cardiac arrhythmias. MedStar Health performs standard and thallium tests and echocardiography exercise tests (either treadmill or bicycle exercise). We use state-of-the-art oxygen consumption techniques to determine how much exercise your heart can safely handle.
Tilt Table Test
During this test, you will lie on a table that moves from side to side. Your blood pressure and pulse will be recorded as the table is tilted. This test will sometimes show an arrhythmia that contributes to the syncope.
T Wave Alternans
This is a test used to discover if a patient has a risk of having ventricular tachyarrhythmias. By reading your ECG, your cardiologist can determine if you are at risk for cardiac arrhythmias by analyzing this pattern in your heart's rhythm.
This sound-wave test measures blood pressure and blood flow in the arms and legs.
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Information on other imaging technologies is available through the Radiology pages.