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Facts About Heart Disease

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Women and Heart Disease
Non-invasive Tests

An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a graphic measure of the electrical activity in your heart. There are specific patterns on the EKG that the physician looks for to determine whether there are abnormalities such as atrial fibrillation (an abnormal rhythm), new or old heart attack, etc.
During the test, you will lie on an exam table while an electrocardiograph machine records the information. You will be attached to the electrocardiograph by stickers on your chest that are connected to wires leading to the machine. The test takes less than 5 minutes.

An echocardiogram (“echo”) is an ultrasound of the heart. A small probe like a microphone, called a transducer, is placed on the chest in various places. The ultrasound waves sent by the transducer bounce off the various parts of the heart. A computer in the machine determines the time it takes for the sound wave to return to the transducer and generates a picture with the data.

During the test, you will lie on your back or left side on a stretcher for about 45 minutes while the pictures are being recorded. The echocardiographer will review the pictures before sending you home to be sure all the necessary information has been obtained.

Stress EKG or echocardiogram

Stress tests are performed to see how the heart performs under physical stress. The heart can be stressed with exercise on a treadmill or in a few instances, a bicycle. If a person cannot exercise on a treadmill or bicycle, medications can be used to cause the heart rate to increase, simulating normal reactions of the heart to exercise. During the stress test, you will wear EKG leads and wires while exercising so that the electrical signals of your heart can be recorded at the same time. Your blood pressure is monitored throughout the test. The stress test can be performed together with the echocardiogram, described above.

Nuclear Stress test

Nuclear stress tests have two components to them: a treadmill (or chemical) stress test and scanning of the heart after injection of a radionuclide material. The material has been used in this manner safely for many years to determine the amount of blood the heart muscle is getting under various conditions (rest and stress). The scanning is done with a nuclear camera.

Carotid ultrasound
Carotid ultrasound is done to evaluate your risk of stroke. The sonographer presses the transducer gently against the sides of your neck, which sends images of your arteries to a computer screen for the technician to see. The technician monitors your blood flow through the carotid arteries on both sides of your neck to check for stenosis. During the exam, you lie on your back on an examination table and a small amount of warm gel is applied to your skin. The test usually takes about 15- 30 minutes.

Abdominal ultrasound
Your doctor may also want you to have an abdominal ultrasound to screen for potential abdominal aortic aneurysm. The sonographer presses the transducer against your skin over your abdomen, moving from one area to another. The transducer sends images to a computer screen that the technician monitors. The technician monitors blood flow through your abdominal aorta to check for an aneurysm. During the exam, you lie on your back on an examination table and a small amount of warm gel is applied to your abdomen. The test usually takes form 20 minutes to an hour.

Holter Monitor
A Holter monitor is a small portable machine that you wear for 24-48 hours, it enables continuous recording of your EKG as you go about your daily activities. You will be asked to keep a diary log of your activities and symptoms. This monitor can detect arrhythmias that might not show up on a resting EKG which only records for a few seconds.

Event Recorder
An event recorder (loop recorder) is a small portable transtelephonic monitor that may be worn for several weeks. This type of recorder is good for patients whose symptoms are infrequent. The monitor ‘loops’ a 2-5 minute recording into its memory which is continually overwritten, when you experience symptoms you press a ‘record’ button on the monitor which stores a correlating strip of EKG. The recordings are telephoned through to a 24 hour monitoring station and faxed directly to the requesting physician.

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