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Pulse Check: Your Guide to 6 Cardiovascular Tests

Pulse Check: Your Guide to 6 Cardiovascular Tests

When you need to get checked for cardiovascular disease, it can feel like navigating a world with its own language. Kunal Patel, MD, imaging cardiologist, Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute, helps you understand these six common cardiovascular health tests:

1. Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG)

Imagine a snapshot of your heart’s electrical activity. That’s your EKG (sometimes called an ECG). During this test, small electrodes attached to your skin will record electrical signals. It’s fast and painless.

2. Echocardiogram

A technician will place some gel on the chest and use a handheld probe to take images and videos of the heart. You’ll need to remove your shirt, put on a gown (for women) and lie on your back or side – but that’s about as involved as it gets.

3. Stress test

How well does your heart perform under pressure? To find out, you’ll either walk on a treadmill, ride a stationary bike or take a medication that makes your heart work harder. In certain cases, you may also need a nuclear stress test. For this, mild radioactive solution gets injected and helps your heart show up more clearly on images.

4. Cardiac computed tomography (CT) scan

This uses X-rays to create a detailed 3D picture of your heart. You’ll lie on a table that slides into a large doughnut-shaped machine. You’ll hear soft buzzing or clicking sounds, and the tech may ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds. The whole scan only takes about 15 minutes.

5. Coronary angiogram

Your clinician will thread a thin tube through a blood vessel to your heart and inject dye to make the arteries visible on X-ray. (It sounds more daunting than it is. You’ll probably just feel a slight pressure from the tube.)

6. Cardiac MRI

It’s similar to the CT scan, but this test uses radio waves and magnets instead. You’ll lie inside a large tube, staying still while the machine takes pictures of your heart. It’s a noisy but completely painless process.

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute

Preventing and treating heart disease

The Heart and Vascular Institute is comprised of several multidisciplinary teams working together to treat complex conditions of the heart.

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