Cardiac Testing - Look Into Your Heart: Read Anna's Story
Undergoing cardiac testing is a lot like checking the brakes on your car before there’s an accident. Even better, these tests help determine not only if a patient is at high risk of developing heart disease, but whether a problem already exists and how best to handle the situation.
For first-time heart-screening patients, there’s no substitute for a good physical exam. The physical your doctor conducts is a chance to look at your complete history and help formulate an assessment of heart disease risk.
“She never complained about pain or anything,” says Rudy Coderoni about Anna, his wife of 62 years. “Then we learned one valve was 90 percent blocked and two others were more than 80 percent blocked. Now that’s weird.”
For many years, Anna and Rudy enjoyed an active senior lifestyle. They volunteered, walked four to eight miles a day and watched their diet. “I’m pretty careful about what we eat. I never fry foods and always use a good oil like olive oil, and eat lots of vegetables,” says Anna. “So I was pretty shocked to find out I needed triple bypass surgery.”
A regularly scheduled stress test warned Coderoni and her cardiologist, Ron Ryder, DO, about the blockages. Almost four years ago she received a pacemaker and periodic diagnostic exams became a part of her routine in an effort to monitor her heart, diabetes and high blood pressure and high cholesterol. “It’s a good thing I was so careful and took my medication — who knows what could have happened.”
Participating in RWJ Hamilton’s cardiac rehabilitation program as part of her recovery is helping Anna get her strength back. Her routine includes monitored time with the cycles, weights and the treadmill. “I feel really great. Everyone is so nice and supportive. I’m getting stronger and someday Rudy and I will be walking and exercising again.”
They plan to exercise regularly at the Groveville Fire Company, where Rudy has been a volunteer for over 50 years. “After more than 60 years together, we’re doing something right. We’re not going to quit now.”
If no major symptoms or history of risk appears, the next level of screening might include any of a few very common tests:
An electrocardiogram, or EKG. This test evaluates the heart’s function, to determine the presence of abnormal electrical impulses and to detect heart damage. An EKG records the electrical impulses traveling through the heart on graph paper. This test measures your heart’s rhythm, and it can test for a previous heart attack or if you’re showing symptoms of a heart attack.
An echocardiogram, or “echo.” Your cardiologist will order this sonogram to learn about your heart’s size, shape, function, movement and surrounding structures.“This is the first test used when a heart murmur is detected to establish where the valve problem is located,” he says. An imaging transducer is moved over the heart during the 30-minute test and an echo probe sends out high-frequency sound waves and receives the feedback, allowing the physician to determine ifyour heart muscle is contracting normally, as well as whether any abnormalities in the heart wall exist.
A cardiac stress test. This procedure, usually administered while the patient is walking or running on a treadmill, monitors and records the heart’s electrical activity and performance under stress. These tests are performed in a controlled setting and provide an indirect assessment of clogged or blocked arteries. We connect you to a heart monitor and then you walk until we see any changes in the EKG or we see signs that you’re becoming tired or out of breath.”
Along with coronary angiogram testing, coronary artery calcium scoring is one of the newer developments in heart tests. Calcium scoring is a CT (computed tomography) scan of the heart used to determine the amount of calcium in the heart’s arteries.
Calcium represents plaque and cholesterol in the artery. If the score is high, a stress test or a stress echocardiogram may be needed.
Regardless of the symptoms or history of risk, heart tests are crucial in mapping out a healthy future. These tests help physicians make diagnoses and are instrumental in determining how to prevent a heart attack. They help determine what’s causing the problem, if it’s life-threatening and how to act on it.