“The very essence of cardiovascular medicine is the recognition of early heart failure,” said Sir Thomas Lewis in 1933. He was one of the most prominent figures of the British Cardiac Society. As ironic as it sounds, he died due to a heart attack in 1945.
If there were better diagnostic techniques available at that time, he could have lived longer.
Living in 2019, you don’t have to worry about getting a heart condition diagnosed. Doctors are now equipped with some of the best instruments and diagnostic techniques to detect a failing heart. You might have gone through some of them at some point. Have you ever wondered why there are so many tests to check for the same condition? Let’s find out!
1. Electrocardiogram (ECG):
This is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone mentions heart-related tests. It is, in fact, one of the most crucial tests to diagnose a heart-related condition. The ECG test is a painless procedure where the technician pastes electrodes on your chest that help assess the rhythm of the heart. It tells the doctor if there are any abnormalities in the beating pattern of the heart; for example, too many beats in a minute or too few, too fast or too slow beats, or if there is any abnormality between two beats. An ECG can also help detect if there is a defect in the walls of the heart, like a thickened heart wall, which makes it difficult for the heart to pump out blood. The ECG test can even reveal if you have had a heart attack before.
2. Stress test or exercise stress test:
You may have gone through this one too or seen it on one of those ‘medical’ shows. The test is carried out to figure out how your heart responds during exercise. That’s the reason why the technician or nurse hooks you to a heart monitor and asks you to walk on a treadmill. They ask you to walk faster, gradually. Then, they ask you to lie down and check your blood pressure. The test is useful to determine if the blood supply to the heart is reduced due to the effort of exercise, and it could diagnose your risk of coronary artery disease (blockages in the blood vessels of the heart).
3. Echocardiography or echo test:
The echo test is an ultrasound test for your heart. A nurse or technician takes images of the heart while it’s in motion. These images reveal the thickness of the heart muscles and how well the heart is pumping blood. This helps your doctor understand if your heart muscle is enlarged and if it can’t pump enough blood at a time.
4. Chest X-ray:
You must have heard that a chest X-ray helps in the diagnosis of lung conditions, but did you know that it helps in the diagnosis of heart diseases as well? A chest X-ray can help detect whether the heart is enlarged. It helps in understanding whether any changes have occurred on the outside of the heart, which could be affecting its functioning. Congestion in the lungs, that might be affecting the efficiency of your heart, can also be detected by the chest X-ray.
5. Blood tests:
Several blood tests are also carried out to check for your vitals. A change in the value of proteins or electrolytes (sodium and potassium) in the blood could indicate a strain on the organs of the body, which may originate from a failing heart.
So now, you know why the doctor is getting so many different tests done. Sometimes, a test may also be combined with another one if the doctor deems it necessary. This may help them detect conditions that do not show up otherwise. Every test gives your doctor some new information or looks at your heart function through a different lens. This vital information helps them diagnose your heart condition early and enables you to live a longer and healthier life!
- Thomas Lewis (1881-1945) [Internet]. [cited 2019 Jul 22]. Available from: http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/people/thomaslewis.
- Common tests for heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2019 Jul 22]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/diagnosing-heart-failure/common-tests-for-heart-failure.