Heart disease is a condition that affects your heart’s structure and function. Heart disease stems from a group of conditions with several different root causes. In the UK alone, around 7.6 million (BHF.org, 2022) people are currently living with a heart or circulatory disease. It continues to be a leading cause of death in this country.
Diagnosing heart disease can be complex, and it takes a series of tests and evaluations to determine whether you have the disease. This article will discuss heart disease diagnosis in its entirety.
Heart Disease Symptoms
Like most health conditions, heart disease does come with a list of symptoms. However, not everyone will experience these symptoms before a diagnosis. Try and look out for the following:
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Pain and discomfort throughout the body
- Chest pain (angina)
- Feeling faint
If you have heart disease, you must get diagnosed as soon as possible so you can begin treatment. If you experience any of the symptoms above, you must book an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.
Tests For Heart Disease
Several different tests can determine whether a patient has heart disease. Your doctor will decide what the best course of action is for you. You may be required to undergo more than one test if your doctor feels it is necessary. Some of the tests you may be required to undergo are as follow:
- Blood tests
- Stress test
- Cardiac MRI scan
- Cardiac CT scan
- CT coronary angiogram
Blood Test For Heart Disease
Your blood can tell you a lot about the current condition of your heart health. Although one blood test does not determine whether you have heart disease, there are several different tests that are used to examine your blood, which helps determine and manage the condition. A cholesterol test measures the fat in your blood. The results will help medical professionals determine patients’ risk of heart disease and other health issues like heart attacks.
A blood test is often over quickly, so it is nothing to worry about. Notify your doctor if the sight of blood makes you feel faint. They may ask you to lie down whilst you undergo the test.
An echocardiogram may sound a lot scarier than it actually is. The process involves taking pictures of the heart using soundwaves. The pictures show the heart beating and pumping blood. Your doctor can then use these results to identify heart disease. Your doctor will request this test to look for any congenital heart defects, problems with the valve or chambers of your heart – and to identify whether your symptoms are related to heart problems.
To find out more about what a heart scan can detect, please read our article.
To help doctors diagnose heart disease, you may be required to undergo a stress test. You would be required to participate in a range of exercises to assess how well the heart functions during periods of increased activity. Your doctor will ask you to use an exercise bike or walk on a treadmill. During the test, both the speed and incline of the treadmill will slowly increase. The heart’s activity is then closely monitored to see how your heart rate and blood pressure are doing. Be aware that additional tests may be required after your stress test. Your doctor will discuss this with you.
Also known as an ECG, an electrocardiogram records the heart’s rhythm, rate and electrical activity. It is a fast and straightforward test, so it shouldn’t take too long. You will be required to remove clothing and jewellery from the waist up. You will then lie flat on a bed/table to undergo the test. Electrodes will be attached to your legs, arms and chest, and the ECG will start. The test will not cause you any pain and should be over quickly. Your doctor will look at your results to identify any abnormalities in your heart and discuss the next course of action with you.
Cardiac MRI Scan
A cardiac MRI scan is used to capture images of the inside of your body. It uses magnets and radio waves rather than making a surgical incision. A cardiac MRI is a standard test used to diagnose heart disease. Your doctor can better understand the condition of your heart by looking at bones and soft tissue in your body. An MRI may look scary. However, it is completely safe. You will be asked to lie on a bench that will slowly travel through a machine. You will be able to communicate through a microphone. The procedure will not hurt and can take anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes.
Cardiac CT Scan
This minimally invasive test uses x-rays to take detailed pictures of the heart and blood vessels. It is a painless procedure that takes a few minutes to complete. The test is used to identify calcium deposits in plaque. If this is what your results show, it is likely that you have heart disease. If you have a lot of coronary calcium, you will be at an increased risk of cardiovascular problems in the future. The test will require you to lie in a scanner where detailed pictures will be taken. You won’t feel any pain. After the scan, your doctor will review your results and be in touch as soon as possible.
CT Coronary Angiogram
This advanced scan allows doctors to directly visualize the inside of the heart’s arteries. The results will show the exact location and severity of any atheroma in the heart. Atheroma is a build-up of materials in the arteries. This can be anything from fat to cholesterol. A CT angiogram has a unique ability to visualize “soft plaque”. This is an atheroma that has not yet been calcified. Doctors can identify it using the test before it ruptures and causes a heart attack. At Echelon Health, we are proud to say that we can offer this test to our patients under our Healthy Heart Package.
To find out more about the different tests we use to diagnose heart disease, visit our medical imaging facilities page.
Other Cardiac Tests
Throughout this article, we have discussed some of the most common tests used to diagnose heart disease. However, there are also some more invasive tests that can be used, like electrophysiology study and cardiac catheterization. Let’s briefly discuss what each one does.
Electrophysiology Study: This procedure involves inserting catheters into your vein or artery. The heart’s electrical signals are then measured by sending natural electrical impulses to parts of the heart. It helps keep the blood pumping and creates a heartbeat. The test aims to identify abnormal heart rhythms.
Cardiac Catheterization: A small catheter is inserted into a chamber or vessel of your heart. The catheter measures the pressures within the heart chambers from various parts. Blood samples are also taken to measure oxygen levels.
Book A Healthy Heart Assessment Package
At Echelon Health, we provide a range of health packages, such as our healthy heart package. The package is designed to identify heart-related conditions. The tests available include:
- Blood tests
- CT heart
- CT coronary angiogram
- Medical questionnaire
- Final consultation
If you would like to book a consultation with one of our healthcare professionals, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via the contact page of our website. We look forward to speaking to you.
BHF.org (2022). Facts and figures. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/contact-the-press-office/facts-and-figures (Accessed 23/02/2022)