Cardiovascular Imaging Procedures and Tests
If your provider schedules you for cardiac imaging, you may have many questions. Some of the tests may be familiar to you— magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT), for example. Others may be less familiar, such as transesophageal echocardiograms and nuclear medicine tests.
To help you, we've listed several of the most common cardiovascular imaging procedures and tests along with both pre and post procedure instructions, as well as details on how and why the test may be performed.
Whatever test your cardiologist has ordered for you, you can be confident that our dedicated, experienced cardiac imaging team will provide you with a safe, comfortable experience. Our board-certified cardiologists will interpret your test results and share their insights with your referring physician, who will use the information to guide your treatment plan.
Cardiac Computed Tomography Angiography (CCTA)
A cardiac computed tomography angiography (CTA) uses CT scanning and an injection of a contrast material to examine the vessels supplying your heart muscle. This test can evaluate the presence of soft (fatty) and hard (calcified) plaque in your vessels. It also can detect narrowed coronary vessels, a condition that can increase your risk of a heart attack.
During the test, you will lie in a CT scanner. You will receive an injection of a contrast dye containing iodine, which will help make the images of your heart more clear. CTA tests use a low dose of X-ray radiation. A CTA usually takes about an hour.
Learn more about a CTA
Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (Cardiac MRI)
Cardiac MRI uses magnets and radio waves to produce images of your heart. The doctor may inject a special dye to help visualize your heart and nearby vessels. During this test, you will lie on a table inside an MRI machine. This test is painless, but the machinery is noisy. The technician will provide headphones to block the sound. A cardiac MRI takes between 30 to 90 minutes.
Learn more about a Cardiac MRI
Cardioversion is a scheduled, outpatient procedure that can correct a heartbeat that's abnormally fast and/or irregular. It delivers a low current of electrical energy to the heart. Cardioversion typically uses electric shocks, which are given through electrodes attached to your chest and back while you're sedated. Cardioversion is different from defibrillation, an emergency procedure that's performed when your heart stops or quivers uselessly.
Learn more about Cardioversion
Computed Tomography (CT) Calcium Test
A CT calcium test reveals calcified plaque in your heart. A higher score suggests you are at increased risk of narrowing in the coronary arteries, which can raise your risk of a heart attack. A CT calcium test is performed in a CT scanner without contrast dye and uses a low dose of X-ray radiation. It takes about 30 minutes.
Learn more about a Calcium CT Test
An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create images of your heart. It allows doctors to see your heart beating and pumping blood. Echocardiograms (sometimes called heart ultrasounds) check for structural abnormalities in your heart. Cardiologists may order an echocardiogram to better understand the cause of chest pain, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, murmurs and congestive heart failure.
During an echocardiogram, you will lie on an exam table. The cardiac sonographer will place electrode stickers on your chest to monitor your heart for rate, rhythm and electrical activity. In a TEE and SE you'll wear a blood pressure cuff to monitor blood pressure throughout the test.
At The Christ Hospital Heart & Vascular Center, we offer several types of echocardiograms.
Transthoracic Echocardiogram and Transesophageal Echocardiogram
A transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) is the most common type of echo test. During a TTE, the sonographer (ultrasound technologist) moves a transducer around on your chest. The transducer is a hand-held device that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the heart.
During a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE), a physician guides a long, thin probe down the esophagus (your "swallowing tube"). At the end of the probe is a transducer. The physician positions the transducer very close to your heart, which is why TEE images tend to be even clearer than images taken through the chest wall with TTE. Before the test begins, you'll be administered medicine to help you feel relaxed and a different medicine to numb your throat. The procedure isn't painful, and you might not even remember it afterward. You will need someone to wait in the waiting room during your procedure and drive you home after it is completed.
Exercise Stress Echocardiogram
An exercise stress echocardiogram helps your cardiologist see how your heart responds to exercise. Ultrasound images of the heart are taken before and immediately after exercise (riding a bike or walking on a treadmill). The sonographer captures images of the heart through your chest wall in two areas.
Learn more about an Exercise Stress Echocardiogram
Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram
A dobutamine stress echocardiogram (DSE) helps doctors see how your heart responds to simulated exercise. Instead of walking on a treadmill or riding a bike, you will receive medication called dobutamine through an intravenous line. Dobutamine safely increases your heart rate to simulate exercise. The sonographer captures images of the heart by moving a transducer around on your chest.
Learn more about a Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram
Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG)
An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) records information about the heart's electrical activity. The technician places electrode stickers on your chest and limbs. During the test, the EKG machine detects your heart's electrical activity and translates this information into waveforms that print out on a strip of paper. An EKG is painless and takes about 10 minutes to complete.
Learn more about an Electrocardiogram
Cardiac Stress Test (GXT)
A stress test can detect issues with oxygen supply to your heart muscle. A doctor or trained nurse
performs the test. They’ll learn how much your heart can manage before an abnormal rhythm starts
or blood flow to your heart muscle drops. Your doctor may recommend a stress test to assess symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath or palpitations or for other reasons.
Learn more about a Cardiac Stress Test
A nuclear stress test measures blood flow in your body while you are at rest and during exercise. The technician will place electrode stickers on your chest, and you will wear a blood pressure cuff on your arm to monitor your heart activity. You will receive a small amount of radioactive material, called a "tracer," through an intravenous line.
An imaging machine will create images of blood flow to your heart, showing areas with poor blood flow or damage. The tracer shows up on the images to indicate areas of your heart that aren't getting enough blood flow. The tracer naturally leaves your body in your urine or stool. This test takes about two-and-a-half hours to complete.
Learn more about a Nuclear Stress Test