Cardiovascular Testing Tips

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What is the Holter monitor test and what does it look for?

Cardiovascular Test: Holter Monitor

One of the simplest and least invasive cardiovascular tests is the Holter monitor test. This small machine is worn attached to the body, generally over your shoulder or strapped to your belt. Typically worn for a 24-hour period, the Holter monitor records your heart's activity through electrodes worn on your chest.

The purpose of Holter monitoring is to detect and record changes in your heart's rhythm. Because some of these changes might not be detected during an in-office electrocardiogram (EKG), the Holter monitor gives your doctor a window into your heart's "daily life."

Besides the monitor recording your heart's activity, you will be asked to keep a journal of how you're feeling throughout the 24-hour period. Using the tape from the Holter monitor and your journal, the doctor should be able to get a good idea how your heart is functioning.

If your doctor notices a significant amount of rhythm changes in your heartbeat, he may diagnose you with irregular heart beat, also known as arrhythmia.

What is a stress test and what does it look for?

Cardiovascular Test: Stress Test

If you've ever had any heart problems, it's likely that your physician ordered a stress test for you. A cardiac stress test is often the first cardiovascular test used for diagnosing heart problems like arrhythmia and coronary artery disease. It's also useful to evaluate the success of a balloon angioplasty or bypass surgery.

Despite its name, the stress test is non-invasive and fairly basic. The point of the test is to challenge the heart, giving the physician the ability to notice conditions that may not be apparent when the heart is at rest. If your doctor is concerned about your risk for a heart attack, he may order a stress test to evaluate your heart's condition.

At the test itself, you will be hooked up to an electrocardiograph using several electrodes. The electrodes will communicate the electrical activity of your heart back to the electrocardiograph. Next, you will be asked to exercise on a machine, typically a treadmill, while the technician increases the speed and resistance. The technician will be monitoring your heart throughout the test and will also ask how you're feeling. If you feel any pain or are exhausted, ask that the procedure be stopped. The purpose of the stress test is simply to raise your heart rate to near maximum level, not to cause pain.


It Could be Heartburn or it Could be Something More Serious

Heartburn is often described as burning in the chest with a bitter or sour taste in the mouth and throat. This usually happens after eating a large meal or lying down after eating. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid escapes the stomach and get into the esophagus—also known as acid reflux. This acid can irritate the stomach causing a burning sensation (heartburn). Hiatal hernia can also cause heartburn. Hiatal hernia is a medical condition in which the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm. If heartburn or acid reflux occurs regularly it may be a symptom of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), gastritis (inflamed stomach lining) or possibly a peptic ulcer. Some things can increase the chance of heartburn or make heartburn more severe such as:
• Being overweight
• Caffeine
• Alcohol
• Citrus fruits
• Tomato and tomato products
• Chocolate
• Fatty and spicy foods
• Smoking tobacco
• Aspirin and ibuprofen
• Other medicines

Persistent heartburn could be a symptom of heart disease. If you have persistent heart burn you should contact your health care provider. They can help you find heartburn relief and prescribe medication for your acid reflux symptoms.

What does C-reactive protein have to do with heart disease?

C-reactive Protein Mysterious Factor in Heart Disease

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein made by the liver. This protein is generally not found in the blood in measurable amounts. Instead, it appears only when the body is suffering from inflammation. CRP will be elevated following a surgery or trauma to the body, but it can also appear if the patient is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, which causes inflammation of the joints.

CRP is now being studied for its connection to heart disease. The VAP Cholesterol Test measures CRP in an effort to detect hidden coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis). While CRP's connection to heart disease is still not known, some experts now list elevated CRP as a risk factor for atherosclerosis.

I don't have many risk factors for heart disease. Do I need to be tested?

Cardiovascular Test: Carotid Scan Can Predict Heart Events in Low Risk People

A May 2006 report from the American Heart Association indicates that the carotid scan may be a more important cardiovascular test than originally thought.

Using ultrasound to examine the carotid artery for blockages may be useful in predicting heart attacks and other heart problems in low risk people. Researchers presented their study at the American Heart Association's 7th Scientific Forum on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke.

These findings are especially important when you consider that a "significant proportion" of heart attack victims do not have other risk factors. This is according to Kwame O. Akosah, M.D., an associate professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and lead author on the study.

In the study, researchers monitored about 140 low risk individuals who had plaque buildup in the carotid artery. They determined that this group was at least three times more likely than those with normal carotid scans to suffer a cardiac event.

With the data from this study, experts have decided that carotid ultrasounds can be an important tool in identifying previously hidden risk factors. By using the carotid scan to diagnose low risk adults with non-coronary atherosclerosis, doctors can identify and possible prevent future heart issues.

What kind of cardiovascular tests are specific for women?

Cardiovascular Tests: Common Tests Insufficient for Diagnosing Female Heart Blockages

Researchers are discovering that many of the usual cardiovascular tests for heart blockages and other problems are insufficient for detecting problems in women.

Routine tests examine the heart's major arteries for blockages. Since this is typically where plaque builds up in men, the tests usually find most male heart problems.

For women, however, the smaller vessels are the ones that tend to become blocked. Because many diagnostic tests are unable to closely examine smaller blood vessels, many women are given a clean bill of health while they continue to experience symptoms. Called coronary microvascular syndrome, this heart condition puts women at a higher risk for heart attack.

Experts haven't yet determined how to solve this problem, but they do suggest that doctors look even more closely at women who show no signs of blockages, but continue to suffer symptoms. These women could need medical intervention and should not be ignored.

What is a carotid scan and why is it performed?

Cardiovascular Tests: Carotid Scan

A carotid scan, also known as a vascular ultrasound, is a non-invasive test used to evaluate the condition of your heart's arteries. Using the carotid scan, doctors can tell if arteries have become plugged or hardened.

The carotid artery is a large artery that travels from the aorta to the brain. The carotid scan uses ultrasound to measure how well blood is flowing through your carotid artery. The scan is painless and takes between 20 and 30 minutes. As the technician scans your artery, the images will appear on a monitor and are recorded for later evaluation.

What is Coronary Artery Disease and how is it diagnosed?

Cardiovascular Test: Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary arteries are your heart's lifelines. They give the heart oxygen and nutrients by sending blood to the heart, so it can pump blood to the rest of the body. Normally, your arteries are wide and unobstructed, with blood moving freely through them. Unfortunately, it is common for our arteries to become obstructed, thus narrowing them, and lessening the amount of blood that can flow through. This condition is known as coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis.

If your doctor suspects you have coronary artery disease, he will order a cardiovascular test called an electrocardiogram (EKG). The test is simple, requires no fasting and no special preparation. The test is administered lying down and takes only about 15 minutes. The EKG monitors your heart's activity using 12-15 electrodes which a technician will place on your arms, legs and chest.

Your heart's activity will print out immediately and can be read by a cardiologist right away.

What is a coronary calcification score and how is it used?

Cardiovascular Test: Coronary Calcification Score

To obtain a coronary calcification score, special CAT scans are used to evaluate the amount of calcium that has become lodged in the heart's blood vessels. Coronary calcification occurs when calcium clings to the blood vessel walls and can cause heart problems such as chest pain or even heart attack.

This fairly simple test is a recent addition to the many different ways doctors diagnose heart problems. While experts are still determining if this test is truly efficient, it has been effective in revealing the presence of blockages. It does not, however, offer specifics that would help in formatting a treatment plan, such as how large the blockages are, or where exactly they have lodged. Instead, when these CAT scans detect coronary calcification, it is treated as an indicator that the patient needs more tests to determine the extent of the problem.

A high coronary calcification score will require further evaluation and possible treatment. A low coronary calcification score, however, generally indicates a good outlook for the patient, with little further treatment being required.

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