TESTS FOR HEART VALVE DISEASE
At first, your doctor might order one or more of these tests to look for evidence of heart valve disease.
A chest x-ray reveals structures in and around your chest. The x-ray can show whether certain sections of your heart are enlarged, or whether calcium deposits are present in your heart. A chest x-ray can also help your doctor learn if you have a valve defect.
ELECTROCARDIOGRAM (ECG or EKG)
Your doctor might also do an electrocardiogram. The doctor or nurse puts up to 12 electrodes (sensory patches) on the skin on your chest, arms, and legs. The ECG images reveal whether your heartbeat is steady or irregular. The ECG also reveals the strength and timing of the electrical impulses that pass through your heart with each heartbeat. It may also be able to show if any of your heart chambers are enlarged.
If your doctor needs more information, he or she may order an echocardiogram, or “echo.” An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create moving pictures of the heart. The images show the heart’s size and shape. They also show how well the heart's valves are working. This test can show whether there is either regurgitation or stenosis in one (or more) of the heart valves.
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI)
This type of test uses radio waves, magnets, and a computer to create detailed images of your heart. A contrast dye is injected into a vein in your arm. The dye will highlight the heart and blood vessels. The MRI machine itself is tunnel shaped. As you lie on a table, it slides into the MRI machine where the images are captured. You’ll probably be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds so that the MRI images are as clear as possible.
COMPUTED TOMOGRAPHY SCAN (CT SCAN)
A CT scan takes multiple x-ray images that, with the help from a computer, create a cross-sectional image of the heart. The scan uses a liquid contrast, or dye, that includes iodine, which is injected into your bloodstream. The CT scan can reveal how well the heart valves open, how the blood passes through the valves, and how the heart is functioning. During the scan, you lie on a table that passes through a doughnut-shaped opening in the scanner. You may feel warmth in your body from the liquid contrast circulates through the blood vessels.
To perform this procedure, your doctor inserts a catheter (a long, very thin, hollow tube) into a blood vessel. Usually the doctor chooses a blood vessel in your arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck. The catheter is threaded through the blood vessel and into your heart. X-ray images help the doctor guide the catheter into the proper spot in the heart. This test can show whether there is either regurgitation or stenosis in one (or more) of the heart valves.
DIAGNOSING HEART VALVE DISEASE
The tests that you undergo will help your doctor determine your diagnosis. Your doctor will be looking for:
- How well your heart is pumping
- The size and shape of your heart valves and chambers
- Whether any valves show stenosis (narrowed valves)
- Whether any valves show regurgitation (blood leaking back up into the heart chamber)
The ultimate goal for the doctor is to find out if there is heart valve disease—and if so, how extensive it is.
Once there is a diagnosis, your doctor will talk to you about treatment options.
LEARN MORE FROM OTHER SOURCES
You can also find out more about heart valve disease from well-regarded sources such as:
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
The American College of Cardiology (an organization for cardiologists) Patient Website